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Spikes in youth and gang crime have led to questions about what Police is doing to prevent the drivers of demand.

The reality is that Police is doing so much to try to prevent crime that in some cases it’s creating tension over staffing resources on the frontline, where officers are stretched with ballooning calls for service.

District prevention staff are often the first cab off the rank to fill a frontline void, particularly in the area of family harm – the biggest driver of police demand.

There’s been a 60 per cent increase in family harm and mental health callouts in the past five years. They are expected to increase by 35 per cent and 44 per cent over the next five years. The average time spent such callouts is just under one hour.

It’s important work, but some callouts turn out to be frustratingly trivial. One member told the Police Association they recently attended a callout that turned out to be a fight between two brothers over a box of chocolates. Another callout involved a child refusing to turn off his computer before bed.

Such anecdotes are rare, but the tensions between the demands of prevention work and the expectations of frontline response work are familiar to Inspector Brent Register, Police’s acting director of community partnerships and prevention.

He acknowledges it could be argued that some non-urgent family harm and mental health jobs shouldn’t be attended by police. However, other government agencies don’t have the resources to attend, either, he says. “So, do we, or don’t we?” he asks. “Realistically, I don’t think we can say no because who does it if we don’t?

“We do need to be working really hard with our partners,” he says, citing the success of Wellington’s Co-Response Team (CRT) model, which combines the skills of a police officer, a paramedic and a mental health specialist to attend IM and IX callouts.

“Prevention is such a long road until we see any benefits, so it's often easy for our district prevention staff to fill in when response staff are down. Unfortunately, it makes those staff feel that their work is less valued.”

As a former area commander in Wairarapa, Brent says he was guilty of doing that himself and agrees that it highlights the importance of having enough staff to respond to incidents.

And there are consequences for taking staff away from prevention work. The spike in youth crime and ram raids is a good example of what happens when the work of school community officers and youth aid gets pushed aside for other duties, he says.

“These kids weren’t getting that positive police engagement for about a year because of Covid demand. If a kid’s older brother or sister is playing up, they’re likely to follow in their footsteps, so it’s about getting in front of them as early as possible.”

De facto problem solvers

Historically, Police has been a bunch of go-getters, Brent says. “We see a problem, we find solutions, we fix it. It’s part of the reason why Police now finds itself the de facto agency for dealing with increasingly complex social issues that manifest themselves in calls for service.”

Mental health and family harm incidents are often driven by stressors such as unemployment, poverty and education, which are not criminal, so Police must be better at letting other government agencies make the decisions to address the drivers of demand to reduce police demand.

“We can’t do this alone. Our partners are the experts at dealing with mental distress and poverty, we’re not, so the more we can work with our partners to get them into the space as quick as we can, then the more demand will be taken off us.”

Prevention model

Crime prevention is one of Police’s eight core functions under the Policing Act. In 2011, Police launched the Prevention First operating model, which targets the six drivers of demand:

  • Alcohol
  • Family harm
  • Mental health
  • Youth crime
  • Organised crime and drugs
  • Road policing

Police has more than 20 active prevention programmes, some of which have been running for several years, overseen by Brent’s team of 35 based at PNHQ. They are all aimed at reducing demand on policing by improving outcomes for vulnerable communities.

They include programmes such as
Te Pae Oranga’s iwi-led restorative justice panels, school-based initiatives such as Kia Kaha and Keeping Ourselves Safe and several family harm and community-based prevention programmes.

On top of that, each district does its own BAU prevention work that isn’t officially recorded.

Brent’s team focuses on alcohol, family harm, mental health and youth crime alongside staff on the ground in each district. Road policing does its own prevention work, as does the National Organised Crime Group.

Improving partnerships with iwi is high on the prevention agenda, says Brent, especially when it comes to building trust with families who have had negative relationships with police in the past. “Often we are called to their house to arrest mum or dad, so from a young age they see the blue shirt and remember that experience. That’s why our youth and community engagement staff are really important to rebuild that trust.”

Measuring outcomes is tricky, Brent says, because a lot of the work is focused on inter-generational change, which means it will take up to 30 years to see the effects. “They won’t be solved in a three-year parliamentary cycle.”

It’s also about the quality of the work, rather than the quantity, he says, pointing to Te Pae Oranga’s panels. More than 13,000 people have been through them since 2017 and about 22 per cent have not come to police’s attention since.

That’s a result that offers hope. “Instead of being the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, Police is trying to put the fence up at the top, so that nobody falls off.”

Ongoing projects

Understanding policing delivery research

(since 2021)

Identifying whether and to what extent bias exists in Police’s operating environment.

Integrated Safety Response

(since 2016)

Police partners with communities, iwi and non-government organisations to share information, including legal updates and advice for victims.

O Le Taeao fou

(since 2018)

Pacific strategy to focus on building capacity and capability to engage with Pasifika communities.

Working with ethnic communities – the future

(since 2017)

Working with refugees, immigrants and others to ensure they feel safe and are safe.

Te Raranga

(since 2021)

Police response to hate crime, initiated after the Christchurch terror attacks.

Paeārahi roles

(ongoing) Rotorua, Tauranga

Held by people with lived experience to engage with hard-to-reach whānau.

Te Pae Oranga

(since 2017/2018)

Iwi/Māori restorative alternative to prosecution (open to all ethnicities).

Te Pae Oranga Rangatahi

(since 2021)

Hamilton, Rotorua, Hastings, Hutt Valley, Christchurch

Tikanga Māori and whānau-centred response to rangatahi offenders to divert them from the youth/criminal justice system.

Whānau Manawaroa

(ongoing) Rotorua

Working with recidivist family harm cases (often from gang whānau).

Hooks for Change

(ongoing) Hamilton, Rotorua, Tauranga

Reducing young people’s escalation through the youth justice system.

5F Family Harm

(since 2018)

Internal training for family harm investigations.

Whāngaia Ngā Pā Harakeke

(since 2016)

Response to family harm focused on partnering with iwi, prevention and culturally effective practices.

Family Violence Inter-Agency Response System

(since 2006)

Original multi-agency response initiatives for FV incidents reported to Police.

Keeping Ourselves Safe

(since 1988, updated 2019)

School-based education on personal safety and child abuse prevention.

Kia Kaha

(since 1992)

School-based education on respectful relationships and bullying.

School-wide interventions

(since 2013)

Police may partner with a school to jointly identified harm or wellbeing issues.

Don't Guess the Yes

(since 2017 Wellington, since 2021 Queenstown and Wanaka)

Changing attitudes around alcohol consumption and sexual consent.

Sexual Assault Assessment Treatment Service

(since 2008)

Acute and non-acute medical treatment, forensic service and referrals for sexual assault victims.

Child Sex Offenders Register

(since 2016)

Administration of register.

High Tech Crime Group – Online Child Exploitation NZ

(since 2009)

Specialist unit to protect children.

These programmes run alongside Police’s permanent primary response and specialist investigation teams.

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