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The way forward

In a rapid follow-up to Commissioner Andy Coster’s pledge to our members that he wants more value placed on the work of frontline staff, a specialist training course has been launched at the Police College.

Last month, two frontline staff from each district attended a one-week Advanced Frontline Course at the Police College designed to upskill first responder staff and give formal recognition for extra competency among PST and road policing teams.

The format, based on feedback from the frontline, is being evaluated with a view to running more courses next year.

It’s one of the first steps in Police’s Frontline Safety Improvement Programme (FSIP) – a renewed focus on training, equipment, technology and safety aimed at finding a way forward after the armed response team (ART) trial and other significant events at home and abroad that have affected police morale and capability.

In a year of multiple challenges, there’s a complex backstory to the FSIP, which Police has outlined in its recently released document, “A path to improving public and officer safety”.

The ART trial was set up in late 2019 in three districts in response to the March 15, 2019, terror attacks in Christchurch coupled with an increase in organised crime and firearms incidents across the country.

The ARTs were popular with staff, who appreciated the expertise and ready tactical backup they offered. Sections of the public, however, were not on board - some through lack of awareness of the intent of the trial, others through philosophical opposition to armed police, and others who simply felt scared and confused at the sight of armed police.

Widespread criticism led to the trial being cut short.

Not long after that, on May 25, George Floyd was killed at the hands of a Minnesota police officer, sparking international outrage and a resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, which had the effect of heightening community fears about policing, and not just in the United States.

In hindsight, Police notes that the “coalescence of these events with the ART trial had a negative impact on police morale” and the extent to which they felt supported and trusted by the wider community.

On June 19, Constable Matthew Hunt, who was unarmed, was shot and killed during a routine 3T. His partner was shot and injured.

Although the events of March 15, 2019, and May 25 and June 19 this year were separate and unrelated, they became “entangled” with each other and with the discussion on ARTs. “This has resulted in increasing support to do things differently,” Police says.

In what Police has described as a significant and transformational piece of work, the FSIP has identified seven principles as the launch pad for the way ahead:

  • Safety first – ensuring everyone goes home safe
  • Well-equipped – the right skills, equipment and capability
  • Wellbeing
  • Informed and adaptable – timely, evidence-based information
  • Recognition – valuing frontline specialists in a critical response
  • Engagement – proactive partnering with stakeholders
  • Trust and confidence – with the community.

Within that, there are six workstreams:

  1. Training

    Police is reviewing and redesigning its integrated tactical training with the promise of more reality-based scenario training and enhanced command and control training.

  2. Valuing frontline responders and their whānau

    Reviewing Police “safety “ culture and how it supports the frontline, including identifying and enabling “people leaders” to support staff wellbeing, and assessing the national safety and wellness response model.

  3. Equipment and capability

    Review the allocation and accessibility of firearms and Tasers. Audit police vehicles and the tactical equipment in them. Investigate how workgroups access Eagle footage so it can be shared with all responders. Look at requirements for mobile command units. Review best practice on weapon storage systems and body-worn cameras.

  4. Command and control framework

    Review the current model, including protocols for command transition; define roles, responsibilities, skills and knowledge.

  5. Response model

    Identify the best deployment model; review TENR, including correct risk assessment for single-crewed vehicle responses.

  6. Operational safety systems

    Review management of high-risk criminals, dissemination of frontline intel (Flints), with the focus on officer safety. Work on system and mobility enhancements. Review the use of alert flags in community systems. Improve DAS (Deployment and Safety app) mobility settings. Review employee profile information so officers are more visible to supervisors when dealing with critical events.

Police estimates it will take one to two years to develop and embed these changes.

Other initiatives already being delivered include safety reminder videos and increased tactical training at the recruit level, such as greater scenario-based cognitive training and de-escalation techniques.

Advanced tactical training will also be rolled out to all frontline officers and the level of live firearms training and simulation has been increased.

Frontline sergeants and senior sergeants will have the opportunity to attend a dedicated Command Course.

In a similar vein, a small group of frontline officers from around the country identified as being able to slot quickly into leadership and operation roles will be trained as “fly-in teams” to support an initial response in a crisis.

Technology

Police has promised “significant technology enhancements”, including a single frontline responder safety app, which it says will reduce the current requirement for multiple log-ons across multiple tools.

It is also looking into vehicle-location tech and improving the way intel is displayed to improve quick and accurate risk assessments.

A new frontline risk assessment system is being developed. “Risk information focused on high-risk offenders relevant to a particular location will be proactively communicated via mobility tools, providing real-time information to frontline officers.”

Tactical opportunities

Because it was so clear to Police that frontline responders felt supported and safer when ART members were there to guide and assist them in high-risk situations, it’s looking at alternative ways of providing that same level of support.

It’s focusing on possible improvements in three areas – AOS coverage, integrated offender prevention teams, and national police dog coverage – all of which are under discussion.

“We recognise the fine balance between ensuring our people are appropriately prepared for the environment they face every day while, at the same time, ensuring the style in which we police is contributing to making that environment safe because it is appropriate and fair to all.”

As one of the stakeholders and parties involved in initial and broader consultation on the FSIP, the Police Association has welcomed the progress already made and the opportunities flagged for the future.

The spirit of the programme’s intent is in line with the association’s own mandate for ensuring the safety and wellbeing of our members and their families.

“Recognition that frontline policing is a specialist role in its own right is overdue and exactly what conference delegates directed the association to lobby for at our 2019 conference,” says association president Chris Cahill.

“The need for advanced and continuous training for frontline staff and acknowledgment of the role experienced officers play in these duties is important.

“The ultimate test of this programme, however, will be that frontline officers are safer.”

Frontline network
Police wants feedback from its staff about the frontline strategy and has set up a Frontline Network with an internal email address. It’s complementing this with district-based “champions”, frontline supporters who will also provide input to the Frontline Network.

 

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