9 Jul 2020

Police at isolation facilities may mean public less safe - police union

From Checkpoint, 5:11 pm on 9 July 2020

Pulling up to 200 officers off the front line to guard managed isolation facilities could put the public in danger, the police union warns. 

The government today announced police would have a 24/7 presence at managed isolation facilities from tomorrow.

The move followed new a man in his 30s who later tested positive for Covid-19 had left the managed isolation facility at Auckland's Stamford Plaza hotel. 

He spent 70 minutes in the city, including visiting a supermarket, before going back to his hotel. He was the second person to leave isolation facilities in the city in the past week. 

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Photo: RNZ / Vinay Ranchhod

Police Association president Chris Cahill told RNZ's Checkpoint the move had political elements, and was not the best use of police resources. 

He said there was certainly an element of a feel good factor, and it was a distinct possibility that it would mean the public was less safe than otherwise. 

"Is that the best priority? To feel good, if it doesn't actually have a dramatic change in the security of those facilities? ... I don't believe it does.

"I think there's a degree of making it look that politicians are doing the utmost they can - and I understand that, and New Zealanders want the utmost to be done - but I don't believe that requires 24/7 police presence." 

He said to fully staff and monitor the managed isolation facilities would take between 150 and 200 police officers who were needed in the community. 

"We've got police districts that don't have many more than 200, 250 sworn staff, some of our smaller police districts, so it's a significant number. It's certainly not a core policing role. 

Police conference in Wellington. Chris Cahill, NZ Police Association.

 Police Association president Chris Cahill Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

"As simple as this - there will not be cops available to attend family harm incidents, to attend injuries, to attend burglaries, to be on the roads patrolling for dangerous drivers. They have to come from somewhere and that's the front line.

"This is a job that can be done by aviation security staff, customs staff, immigration staff - the people that aren't fully utilised due to Covid issues that are created at the border." 

He believed Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield could give those staff the powers they needed to do the job just as effectively as police. 

There were already 400 Defence Force troops stationed at the facilities and, he argued, there was not much need to have police there as well. 

"If there was clear evidence that police powers were required regularly because people were trying to break the quarantine rules that would be understandable, but there's no evidence supporting that. 

"Policing can be called in when there is a significant issue of someone not following the rules but we've only seen two people that appear to have breached those rules so it's not an issue of having all these officers standing around wating for that to happen. 

"I think you have to be realistic. Two runners out of thousands of people that have gone into quarantine is not a great number and my information is only one of those was deliberate, one of them was ignorance."

He said the situation where police were brought in to guard some locations after the 15 March Christchurch mosque terror shootings last year was not equivalent. 

"That was quite different - that was to give the people the reassurance against a danger of people with firearms or other threats to those communities, and that is clearly a police role. 

"Actually bringing police officers in to do what is essentially a health role - it's not a police role, these people aren't in prison, they're not captives, they're following rules under the Health Act and acts made around that - so it's quite a different scenario." 

Cahill said he had spoken to Police Commissioner Andrew Coster about the matter, and while he had not been able to speak to Megan Woods, the minister in charge of managed isolation facilities, he hoped to contact her tomorrow.