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Major concerns expressed in the 2023 Police Association Member Survey include the number of staff, retention of quality senior staff and the need for more frontline staff. Photo: STUFF

More than 80% of Police Association members are unhappy with the level of frontline staffing in New Zealand Police.

Staffing – or more to the point a lack of staff – is once again the most prevalent issue facing Police according to the Police Association, Te Aka Hāpai 2023 Member Survey.

Ironically, the month the survey was in the field, the last of the long-awaited target of 1800 extra officers and authorised officers (AOs) was reached. Amid that fanfare, 83% of members who completed the survey expressed dissatisfaction with the number of frontline staff – an increase from 78% in the 2021 survey.

This level of dissatisfaction grows to 86% when it comes to allocation of resources to frontline – general duties branch (GDB), public safety teams (PST) and dog section – who continue to be identified as the single most critical area for more resources.

Broken down by districts, the dissatisfaction is stark.

Ninety-five per cent of frontline officers in Canterbury and 94% in Waikato report feeling not enough resources are allocated to their areas. They have the highest dissatisfaction numbers but are not outliers.

Wellington, where 86% of frontline feel not enough resource is allocated is the most “positive”, and the other nine districts sit between the two extremes.

The association’s biennial survey also asks members to look ahead to the next five years and outline, in order of priority, what they see as the three most important issues facing New Zealand Police. No context or prompts are given. Members are asked to write their opinions in their own words, thus providing a powerful indication of their top-of-mind concerns.

Of this year’s top five themes, staffing is considered the most important (30% of members) and second or third most important (28%), by members. This 58% strongly indicates they have not been swayed by the 1800 milestone, particularly considering the concerns around staffing have increased 12% on the responses in the 2021 survey. Staffing concerns include the number of staff, retention of quality senior staff and the need for more frontline staff.

When we reported the results of the 2021 survey, we asked NielsenIQ, which conducts our surveys, to provide a “word cloud” of member feedback. The word “staff” took centre stage among a collection of key statements such as safety, firearms and crime.

Two years on, our survey shows concern around staffing on the frontline has only intensified.

Association president Chris Cahill says it is critical to keep a clear focus on what a frontline constable is.

“They are sworn staff who graduate from Police College. In 2017, New Zealand was promised a net extra 1800 officers – 1550 officers and 250 AOs. It took six years, 4355 officers and AOs, accounting for attrition, to fulfil the promise of the net extra personnel,” Chris says.

“Figures recently released by Police for the purpose of calculating a police-to-population ratio of 1 to 483 suggests 533 AO positions should be counted as constabulary staff when that is incorrect as per section 24 of the Policing Act 2008. The public is very clear on what a constable is, and so is the association,” he said.

Our survey also explored the level of member satisfaction with the guidance and coaching that probationary constables receive. Members were asked how they felt about “the mentoring and support given to constables in the first two years after graduation”.

Among members of the constabulary who have been in Police for less than two years, 44% are dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with the level of mentoring and support given to them in their first two years after graduation; 35% are satisfied.

Compared with the 2021 survey, overall satisfaction has fallen from 24% to 21%. Among those with less than two years’ service, satisfaction has dropped from 38% in 2021 to 35% this year.

Mentoring and support

  • Those who work in frontline (GDB/PST/ dog section) are more likely to be satisfied with the mentoring and support given in the first two years after graduation (up 6% to 27%) as are senior sergeants (27%) and those who have been in Police for less than two years (35%).
  • Those in prosecutions, sergeants and those in the 2-4 year and 10-14 year brackets are more likely to be dissatisfied (54%).
    The serious concerns that members raised in the survey about staffing tally with the reports from this year’s association committee meetings throughout the motu.
    In Rotorua, committee chair Mike Membery is worried about staff recruitment and retention and high levels of stress landing on the frontline, custody and investigations branches, to name a few.
    Steve McCormick says the Kāpiti Mana area is operating with many positions unfilled, for example seven of 36 positions in the Prevention Group are vacant. And on the West Coast, chair Paul O’Hara says they are relying on “a lot of good will” at short notice to cover shifts.
  • A total of 5176 members completed the 2023 survey giving it a maximum margin of error of +/- 1.4%.

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