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The leaky roof in Upper Hutt station, where the roofing tiles have either fallen or been removed. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

After dozens of delegate reports to the Police Association’s 2023 conference drew attention to the appalling state of stations and custody units across the country, recent Police News inquiries confirm the momentous infrastructure issues that Police face within its property portfolio. CARLA AMOS reports.

Police’s top brass have publicly conceded what many Police Association members have been shouting from leaky rooftops for years – Police’s property portfolio is suffering from chronic underinvestment.

In answer to a question from the floor, Commissioner Andrew Coster acknowledged the nationwide issue at the association’s annual conference in October, saying he was “well aware of our infrastructure challenges” and knew that it was “frustrating” for staff.

Since then, Police has held initial discussions with the new Government and briefed Minister of Police Mark Mitchell of those “significant financial and infrastructure challenges”, says Assistant Commissioner: Assets and Capability Mike Johnson.

Police News canvassed association members on how they see the problem and found staff are struggling with major issues in dozens of locations. They range from off-limits areas due to black mould and closed custody suites to leaky walls and roofs, nailed-up windows and lockers housed in toilet cubicles due to lack of space.

Mike Johnson leads the Property Group team, which is charged with deciding which Police properties to put forward for approval to refurbish or replace. He also admits Police has considerable challenges across the property portfolio.

“There’s pressure on right across [Aotearoa].” Unfortunately, he says, Police is facing a “perfect storm” that includes the impact of recent natural disasters, the aged state of its buildings, increasing prices and rising inflation.

You can also throw in Finance Minister Nicola Willis’ belt-tightening directive – Police must cut costs by 6.5% before the next Budget year and reinvest them into frontline services. It’s not known whether property fits into frontline services or is considered an area ripe for cost saving.

Mike says he is looking to the upcoming Budget in the hope it will provide “appropriate funding” to get the ball rolling on the reddest of the many red flags in the property portfolio. Until he sees what that magic number is, he says he cannot say which sites will benefit.

Making the final cut

Part of the Property Group’s role is to “make sure the right things are being put forward for investment consideration”, Mike says. “We have a robust process.”

To make the coveted priority list, any property signalled for investment is tested against specific criteria that include “safety, security, health, wellbeing, capability, asset management, collaboration and public value”.

Mike is adamant health and safety gets top billing. Other priorities include the need, capability, age and state, he says, but health and safety is key. “If we've got a leaky building… those are the types of things that sit at the very top of the lists.”

But has the mountain of priorities become unconquerable? As last year proved, unexpected events – cyclones and floods – can exacerbate the problem and longoverdue and prioritised projects shuffle down the list.

Mike assures there is “a larger strategy in place” to make sure Police gets to all the red flags “in a prioritised way”. He acknowledges there’s serious and urgent work to be done but there is always “only so much money in the bucket”.

Temporary fixups, rather than futureproofed, permanent fixes, and chronic underfunding seem to be the modus operandi for Police and the Government. Association members throughout the country say they are over it.

They have become all too used to knowing it’s raining when water seeps through wall sockets, down walls or over the floor; black mould that adorns the ceilings like inkblot tests; areas cordoned off or only able to be entered if you are wearing a mask; and cell blocks that are out of action or deemed so high risk that prisoners have to be constantly monitored. “It’s an embarrassing and sad state of affairs,” said one member.


Mike says fixing Greymouth’s leaky roof is “near the top” of the list. Frustrated staff say the West Coast’s only 24/7 station, which was built in 1948, should have been top priority for some time. Water has been leaking into the building for years, causing holes to open up, black mould to take hold and sodden building material to fall to the floor.

The upshot of the leaks came to a head late last year. After air quality testing found higher-than-acceptable levels of black mould spores, Police temporarily closed the station to the public and was forced to send some of its 55 staff home to work.

Thermal fogging to kill the toxic spores has been under way but, until staff get the all-clear, they have been forced to wear masks to stay safe in some parts of the building.

Association members say the fogging and slapped-up plywood patches are examples of Police’s mentality of “applying a plaster” to issues. They want a permanent fix – not the oven pan they have on the meal-room floor to catch incessant drips.

“A Band-aid on a Band-aid isn’t the way to fix the problems, both in Greymouth and in many of the other stations around the country,” they say.

Mike agrees the situation is Greymouth is “not ideal” but not that it’s unsafe. “We have regular testing [and fogging]… We’ve tried several fixes that haven’t worked for various reasons [but] there's an absolute commitment to get that right.”



Greymouth is not alone in battling black mould issues. The custody area of Nelson station, which was built in the 1960s, has also been subject to weather-tightness issues for several years. It has been said that you can tell when it’s raining, because rivers of water run down the walls of the cells.

Members there also endure ongoing air quality testing and regular fogging. “It fails to provide confidence to the staff working there... no-one is willing to fund what is required, a new roof! Welcome to policing in provincial New Zealand,” they say.



Tasman District’s third main station in Blenheim has been mostly torn down because of earthquake damage and was about to be replaced. However, the plan – as the commissioner put it in October – was “scuppered by the cost of [it] and our financial situation” as well as a pause to assess the damage to Police buildings wrought by Cyclone Gabrielle.

In the meantime, exasperated staff are working across what’s left of the old station, which is full of trip hazards and has questionable plumbing (malfunctioning urinals and sewage leaks), and three other buildings. “CIB is in one, prevention and prosecutions in another, another group in one other building, and PST is working out of the original station. It’s a shambles… Our community and staff deserve better,” association members say.



Hamilton Central Station, which is around 50 years old, was also due for an already 15-year-overdue rebuild but it’s understood the funding was withdrawn after Cyclone Gabrielle. But Mike says Hamilton is not off the table. “We've got the detailed planning done. The next step of that is securing and ensuring the funding envelope is there for that... It's a question of when we can press the button on it.”

Meanwhile, staff are plagued by plumbing and electrical problems and all but one elevator is out of action. Hamilton’s East and West stations and Coromandel, Paeroa and Te Aroha stations have all dealt with leaks and/or mould.


When Whakatāne station celebrated its opening in 1970, it had 20 to 30 staff. It now houses more than 130 staff and is described as a “stuffed sardine can” that Police has promised to replace for 25 years.



While Rolleston station is only 11 years old, association members say it is bursting at the seams because it wasn’t “future proofed”. One officer’s locker is within a metre of a urinal while others have theirs in the disabled toilet cubicle. Meantime, gear bags litter the hallways and are stuffed into every available space in the meal room.

So, we await that mighty magic number in Budget 2024 in May and details on what happens next and where.


Custody battle

It’s not just stations fighting to get their hands on some property portfolio pennies. Several Police custody suites have been decommissioned, can no longer be used properly or are non-compliant.

But it could be a losing battle. It is understood Police recently found out it would get a tiny fraction of what it asked for to begin a massive custody upgrade.

The state of the units has been repeatedly called into question by association members. The Independent Police Complaints Authority (IPCA) has also signalled that chronic underinvestment has left a number of facilities in an “unacceptable” state. Worse, many staff feel unsafe.

The IPCA is tasked with monitoring those placed in detention in New Zealand. In its briefing to incoming Justice Minister Paul Goldsmith in December, it said it constantly observes issues relating to custody units and warned that, “despite the fact that there has been some remedial work… over the last 15 years, a substantial number of Police cells are not fit-for-purpose and expose both staff and those in custody to risk”.

Hawke’s Bay custody unit, which has been sitting under a giant plastic shroud to prevent it “leaking like a sieve” for over a year, is a case in point. Members who work there say the long wait for a permanent solution has had a detrimental effect on their health and wellbeing.

They are beyond frustrated by having to work in a high-risk area, in substandard facilities that do not meet police policy while seeing no clear plan for its replacement.

Apart from the leaky roof, they say several other issues make the Hastings building ill-equipped and unsafe for detainees and high-risk for staff. It has no stand-alone audiovisual-link room so staff make do with a poor-quality substitute, it has not had any visitor capability for three years despite this being a requirement for remand prisoners, and the day room also cannot be used – another requirement.

Mike Johnson says he and Police interact with the custody-focused staff at the IPCA regularly and that they are “rightly raising issues”. He says Police takes the safety of people under its care in custody units very seriously and sets a very high bar.

Some association members feel the “high bar” for detainees is sometimes not applied to staff. In one site, the cell block had been renovated while staff in the station contend with leaks, light fittings falling from the ceiling and mould. They mused: “It appears Police have a duty of care for prisoners coming into the building, but not for their staff who work in these poor conditions day in and day out.”

Mike strenuously disagreed: “On behalf of the executive, I don't accept that is the case... those in our care require a high standard, as do our staff.”

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