17 Nov 2021

Isolated rural police face burnout, lack of support - IPCA review

11:50 am on 17 November 2021

An Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) report has highlighted major issues in the resourcing of small community police stations, with some officers saying they are close to burnout.

Unexplained death in Taita, Lower Hutt early on Sunday 26th January 2020.  A Police cordon and crime scene invetsigation tent were in place Monday 27th January 2020.  Police Emergency tape.

Photo: RNZ / Patrice Allen

The review was done after several people in communities with a one- or two-person police station complained about the way their local officers dealt with them.

The IPCA selected 12 small communities across the country, and interviewed the local officers and residents.

It found officers enjoyed the challenges of working remotely but felt they were constantly on call, and the remoteness made it more difficult for them to access relief or backup.

"Safety was a concern for many of the small community officers we spoke to, because they are routinely required to attend incidents alone and in remote locations. Most had strategies for accessing support from other rural officers nearby, or from within the community when necessary," the report found.

"Safety concerns are exacerbated by the presence of black spots, which prevent officers from contacting their Communications Centre in the event of an emergency and exposes them to undue risk."

It also highlighted the issue of police officers having a conflict of interest, particularly when members of a community believe their officer favours some people more than others.

"Officers in small communities are less able to avoid such perceived conflicts, because often there is no one else to hand the matter over to."

Some officers which took part in the review were concerned about workload and burnout, especially the lack of adequate support in one-person stations.

IPCA chair Judge Colin Doherty said policing of small communities could be difficult and challenging.

"We met outstanding officers in the course of our review and were impressed at the service they provided, however, we concluded that police as an organisation lack an adequate national strategy for the allocation of resources and delivery of services to small and remote communities.

"The role of officers is not always clearly defined, and they do not always receive sufficient induction, supervision, training and support. Conflicts of interest sometimes arise that officers are not sufficiently trained and equipped to handle."

The authority made 41 recommendations including:

  • Better defining the scope of the small community officer's role;
  • Developing clearer guidance on how to manage conflicts of interest that are particular to small communities;
  • Providing regular welfare support to small community officers and their families;
  • Developing a national resourcing model to support decision-making on appropriate resourcing of policing in small communities;
  • Building more permanent relieving capacity for these roles;
  • Developing better, more systematic induction processes;
  • Limiting small community officer roles to a term of five years, with the possibility of an extension;
  • Enhanced training and a support network for small community officers

Police welcomed the findings of the review, with deputy commissioner Glenn Dunbier saying responses to many of the recommendations were already being developed as part of an internal review into rural policing during the past seven months.

"We have undertaken a thorough look at the different challenges and opportunities our people face in policing rural areas of New Zealand, and how we can help support them to better serve their communities," Dunbier said.

"Police in rural communities will experience many different challenges to their urban counterparts, such as the size of the areas they serve and various logistical and technology barriers.

"Our rural police staff take as much pride in providing an excellent service to their communities as our staff do in urban environments.

"To help them deliver the best service to their communities, we have taken a look at defining what successful policing in the rural context looks like, any current barriers to achieving that success, and what improvements we should make to our rural policing."

It is expected that specific recommendations will be finalised later this year.

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