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President's Column: What's needed for the new normal

Over the past weeks, all New Zealanders have had to dramatically change the way we live and work – as individuals, as families and as a society.

There is no doubt that fighting the Covid-19 virus has stressed our wellbeing and our economy, but now we have good reason to feel confident we are working through the various stages towards what will be our new normal.

Policing in that new normal will also be different. Our members will be challenged by the fact that some of the greatest effects of a post-Covid-19 Aotearoa will be felt by the people that police interact with most often.

Our new commissioner will face the balancing of challenging changes in society against enormous budgetary pressures, as the Government turns its focus to vital economic rebuilding. It is a formidable time for Andy Coster to begin his new job, and I congratulate him on his appointment. He can be rightly proud of his achievement and I know he is up for the challenges that inevitably come with this role – although perhaps not usually at the very get-go.

No doubt the new commissioner has a vision, and perhaps the new normal will actually present opportunities for Police to refocus on how its core strategies are delivered, and to re-engage with many who feel their views have not been valued or listened to.

I am heartened to hear feedback that the commissioner has made it clear he wants an environment that respects a variety of views. This is a message that needs to flow down through all levels of policing, because it is that lack of diversity of thought that has been the biggest hindrance to the success of the Police High Performance Framework.

I am a strong supporter of the Prevention First strategy, but I believe, to some extent, we threw the baby out with the bathwater when it was implemented. This is manifested in widespread public frustration that Police no longer seems able to deliver some of the basic services that the public expects.

Prime examples include a dramatic reduction in burglary investigations, a woeful response rate to fraud, despite the devastating effects it has on its many victims, and a reduction in the simple but extremely reassuring visibility of police in our communities. These are matters that all fit neatly under a Prevention First umbrella, but appear to have been sidelined in favour of new inventive approaches that many people fail to see, or reap the benefits of.

I understand the balancing act between meeting the demand for what is happening now and the need for future change to prevent continuing harm. However, a recalibration of this balance is overdue.

Part of that restart will be the commissioner’s desire to improve the quality of Police partnerships. The partnerships in Wellington need to be robust, and from that strength comes the ability to deliver real mahi to the districts so they, in turn, achieve the results we all desire. In the testing times immediately ahead, this will be more important than ever.

It is well recognised that in periods of economic recession, lower socio-economic groups are disproportionately affected and the number of victims of crime increases. Given the major hit to tourism, hospitality and retail industries, this could prove truer than ever, and it is police who will have to respond to the resulting pressures on the most at-risk sectors of society.

I hope those who blame police for many of the inequities in the criminal justice system can take a step back and consider the complexity of the full picture. There are successive failures in play across society and government before many of the people police regularly encounter come within their orbit. We need to factor that in as we cope in the coming months, rather than lashing out at how those on the frontline do their job.

Whatever our new normal looks like, it is going to be different and difficult to get there. However, I am confident that with strong leadership, empathy and partnership across our society – and perhaps a good measure of Kiwi can-do – we will come through this.

Kia kaha

Chris Cahill

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