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Police Association president Chris Cahill.

It was a return to "normality" at the 87th Police Association Annual Conference last month as president Chris Cahill made his opening address to a full in-person crowd for the first time since 2019.

Chris Cahill warned delegates that the legacies of the Covid-19 pandemic continued to put pressure on police. Be it housing inequality, poor mental health, truancy, opportunistic crime or the alarming jump in disinformation leading to public distrust and protests such as the one at Parliament, police were in the thick of it.

The fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic continued to manifest in ongoing social disharmony.

Now, it was time to take stock, learn from lessons of the pandemic and look forward, he said, speaking to the conference theme – Policing: Future challenges.

As policing has evolved, conflicts and contradictions had become apparent. Were police enforcers or social workers; proactive or reactive? Would technology work for or against police; and was the service ready for the long overdue diversity now apparent in every recruit wing?

The trajectory indicated police were becoming stuck between two masters – the communities subjected to crime and violence and another set of Kiwis who, for the benefit of all, essentially needed rescuing from themselves.

The “inconvenient truth” was that police staff were stretched across what was clearly the domain of many other government departments. The Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Social Development and Oranga Tamariki needed to step up and ease the load on Police which had become the “24/7 government department relied on to deliver services they are neither funded for nor proficient in”.

Many interest groups, including some within Police, differed on what and how they expected Police to deliver and competition for resources was intense, he said

This was particularly evident in mental health callouts, which reached 192,000 in 2021 and are at 126,000 so far in 2022.

Technology could assist police, he said. The association was supportive of body cameras for members, but issues such as the cost and who could access the footage remained unresolved.

Facial recognition technology “could be a game-changer” in crime prevention and detection, but also came with concern over potential abuse.

As for the recent IPCA and Privacy Commissioner report implementing a ban on voluntary fingerprints and photos, Chris said it was a “disruptor to basic crime-solving technology”. The report must be challenged, and he expected Police to initiate that.

Chris praised Police for its mahi on diversifying the constabulary with more women, Māori, Pasifika, Indian and Asian staff.

The increasing attrition rate was of concern, as was the possibility of overseas jurisdictions looking to New Zealand to fill their own policing void.

To combat this, he said, the Government must fufill its policy promise of one officer to every 480 citizens.

“We all know there will be another pandemic; we don’t know on what scale,” Chris said. “We need to work now to secure the partnerships and collaboration across agencies to prevent the social disharmony that bubbled to the surface before exploding at Parliament in March.”

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