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There was a common theme as our chairs reviewed the past year at the Police Association area committee annual meetings from May 31 to June 30, with many asking where the extra 1800 police officers were.

Genevieve Craddock, chair of the Christchurch Area Committee mirrored many others’ observations in her annual report, saying that over the past year, committee members had seen an increase in burnout and low morale in most workgroups. “This has primarily been due to a lack of staff and resources to do their job.”

In South Aoraki, chair Nathan Forbes summed it up pretty simply: “The faces change but the numbers on the ground do not. It seems to be a common theme: 1800 additional officers to be achieved, yet the question on most people's lips is where are they?”

In Horowhenua, chair Bernie O’Brien noted a major loss of staff from Levin, especially those with experience, and said Horowhenua, in particular, didn’t have any more staff than it did when the rollout of 1800 new cops started. “While we have seen a number of new recruits arrive they are simply just filling gaps that have been left by staff either changing roles by being promoted or, in some cases, leaving the job.”

Lewis Sutton in North Taranaki agreed, saying on paper numbers were increasing but it was hard to see it filtering to the frontline. Just down the road in Palmerston North, chair Allan Wells said, “Every member who has become a sergeant on a Public Safety Team (PST) has complained about numbers on section.”

Further north, staffing was also a concern in Eastern Bay of Plenty. Chair Ash Clements said the ever-increasing demand on police combined with staffing issues was plaguing an “already stretched frontline”.

Lack of experience

Ash said while Eastern Bay of Plenty had had a taste of the extra 1800 officers, that brought with it the issue that some PSTs were now predominantly made up of very junior probationary constables. Hutt chair Stephen Cross and Taranaki Rural chair Carly Taiaroa also highlighted that the balance of experience had shifted for the worse.

In some districts, a lot of new faces had thrown out the ratio of field training officers (FTOs) to probationary constables. Many said they believed it was a national issue and wanted it addressed by Police.

In Kāpiti Mana this was exacerbated by some PST supervisor positions being covered by FTOs for long periods so new PST staff were not receiving the full benefit of their supervision and guidance, said chair Steve McCormick.

Western Bay of Plenty chair Wayne Hunter gave a shout-out to the hard-working PST members who were doing battle with either minimum or under-minimum numbers on a frequent basis.

In Southland, other work groups had put their hand up to help where numbers on the street were depleted in Eastern. Chair Jamie Cook said there had been an increase in staff coming from Police College “which has been great” but staff movements and sickness had taken a toll on staffing levels right across the area.

In Whanganui, chair Zak Thornton said PST deployment numbers remained an ongoing topic of discussion. The committee believed staff deployed below agreed operating numbers was a health and safety issue.

In Mid Far North, chair Kirk Glent also questioned whether PST staffing numbers were right. “I haven’t seen a change in [resource allocation targets] for PST in the time I have been in Police. I have seen a number of promotion positions and other workgroups created, however.”

Weather and welfare

Kirk said the relentless rain over summer and other major weather events had put additional pressure on families and friends, while staff assisting with community reassurance faced added stress and anxiety about returning to looming trial dates and time-sensitive work.

In North Shore-Waitemata, chair Lorraine McMurtrie said members there had suffered terrible losses and their thoughts were with those who attended the tragic loss of two firefighters in Muriwai. This had the added impact of staff thinking “that could have been one of us”, she said.

Flooding had also affected a large number of Auckland members, chair Andrew Gwilliam said. This varied from writtenoff cars to entire household lots being lost. More than a dozen members were supported with Welfare Grants that were greatly appreciated.

Counties Manukau chair Anthony Fielding, Piki Ki Te Ao chair Eva Findlay and Hawke’s Bay chair Sally Patrick echoed those sentiments, saying welfare referrals had been well received and distribution had not been a light task given the number of members’ families affected by severe flooding and Cyclone Gabrielle – some of whom were still dealing with aftermath months later.

In thanking the many colleagues who came to their aid in Hawke’s Bay, Sally also said “the comradery, heroism, passion, and empathy that our people demonstrated on February 14 and the days that followed were second to none”.

In Tairāwhiti, the cyclone had undoubtedly been a “true test of resilience”, Gisborne chair Brent Griffiths said. In the aftermath of its trail of destruction, the significant injection of outside staff into the region was pivotal in giving local staff and their families time to recover and regroup. He also praised the further layer of support from the association.

Meanwhile, Brent noted concerns about the nature and seriousness of offences being committed and the abuse and violence police face. He did not want this environment to become an expected nor accepted norm for those in policing.

The Tactical Response Model rollout was a welcome step towards combating some of these issues, he said, but it also created other challenges. “The unfortunate side effect of filling these positions is that they are, for the most part, being filled locally... creating further vacancies within workgroups that simply do not have capacity to carry them.”

Cost of living crunch

Gisborne was carrying a high number of vacancies in several work groups – Investigations, for example, had seven. Not helping matters, Brent said, was the lure of attractive remuneration packages offered elsewhere as well as a disparity between what police are paid and the degree of risk the job carries. “Canvassing [recent] ex members around their rationale for leaving Police… the majority of reasons were financial.”

In Canterbury Rural, chair Andre Barrett said often new recruits are taking a pay cut to join. With inflation affecting lower-income households and the base starting rate for a new constable at roughly $30 an hour this was not far off the minimum wage.

In Waitakere-Henderson, chair Mike Colson said the health and wellbeing of staff was already compromised, with the demand on police staff having increased exponentially. “And to add to all this, we are in the throes of a pending recession and everyone is struggling to meet financial commitments. So, the stress is not only at work but in your private life as well.”

On a positive note, Waikato chair Derek Lamont said the Shift Incentive had meant staff were lining up to be on the frontline, while West Coast chair Paul O’Hara said the introduction of Short Notice Shift Change payments and the fact they are being paid was appreciated.

The main themes to emerge around the country

  • The current pay round
  • Rostering, retention and recruitment
  • The effects of severe weather events on staff
  • The cost-of-living crisis
  • Heightened concerns about illegal firearms and serious crime
  • A rise in assaults on police
  • Staffing, increased demand and low morale
  • The shortage of field training officers
  • The $15 million MVR remediation
  • Short Notice Shift Change payments welcomed
  • Call for a mix of workgroups on committees

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