13 Jul 2012

Thin blue line 'dangerously thin' in Northland

7:28 am on 13 July 2012

Whangarei police staff are backing a statement by their former boss that they need more officers on the front-line.

Paul Dimery retired abruptly last Friday after 12 years as Whangarei and Kaipara area commander, saying he has had enough of never-ending pressure to do more with less. He believes government funding constraints have stretched resources too far and put front-line staff at risk.

The Police Association's delegate in Whangarei says every officer on front-line duties in Northland want to see an increase in their numbers.

Steve Radich says have been a number of serious assaults on staff and there are times when the thin blue line in the region is dangerously thin. He says there have been too many near-misses when, but for luck and professional skills, officers could have been seriously injured or killed.

Paul Dimery claims the police service is being run like a business and told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report programme on Tuesday that one of the many factors that brought him to the decision to leave was that finance was being put before people.

"We don't fill positions anywhere near as quickly as we should, we have relieving staff in positions, we don't have sufficient staff on busy times - those are probably the main issues."

He says under-resourcing puts pressure on front-line staff and told the programme that while staff are not necessarily more at risk than previously, fewer resources are available for crime prevention.

Mr Dimery says the police culture has become a commercial one of continually trying to do more with less and after years of trying to get more staff, he has simply had enough.

"We're sending out people on night shift by themselves. At Dargaville, we send staff out by themselves. It doesn't happen in bigger areas because they have the numbers to back them up. Here, we don't. Those guys are a long way from any back-up should they need it."

Mr Dimery said his parting message to Police Commissioner Peter Marshall and politicians would be what he has always said. "If you look after the front-line staff, and you just look after your staff, they will continue to do the outstanding job that they've always done."

The Police Association's Steve Radich says staff accept that the service must be run like a business - but the business they are in is public safety and saving dollars should not over-ride that as a priority.

Mr Radich says Paul Dimery was the kind of boss who challenged his staff to do better - and his sudden resignation has caused uncertainty and unease among Whangarei police.

Service run in 'business-like fashion'

Police Commissioner Peter Marshall says the police service is not a business, but is being run in a business-like fashion. However, he disputes the claim resources are being stretched in Northland.

The commissioner told Radio New Zealand's Checkpoint programme on Thursday the Northland District has a better officer to population ratio than anywhere else in the country, except in the Eastern District.

Mr Marshall says Whangarei has 11 more officers than a year ago, and the number of sworn staff is currently 330.

In a statement earlier on Thursday, the commissioner said the district was getting good crime reduction results and in the last published statistics crime had fallen by 10.5%.

Whangarei has a neighbourhood policing team as part of crime prevention, and there are moves to maximise the number of officers on the street, the statement said.

He said that in difficult economic times police need to demonstrate good value for the $1.4 billion of "hard earned taxpayers money invested in the organisation."

Mr Marshall stressed that policing is an innately dangerous and difficult job.

"New Zealand Police officers, through their dealing with uncertainty and volatile situations serve the people of this country extremely well. In no way, shape or any form would I want any of my comments to be interpreted as watering down the difficulty of the role.

"Over the last year some 14 of the 43 Area Commanders had moved for a variety of reasons ranging from promotion, retirement, restructuring and deployment in other roles."

Mr Marshall says refreshment and rejuvenation in an organisation with an extremely low attrition rate, of 3% a year, is no bad thing.

"I have been impressed with the realism that nearly all my commanders have had in terms of whether or not they see themselves as having the energy, enthusiasm and skills to take the organisation forward in the challenging environment we are in."

Mayor saddened by retirement

Whangarei mayor Morris Cutforth says he is stunned and saddened that Paul Dimery has quit.

Mr Cutforth says the district's top police officer worked tirelessly with the council to make Whangarei a safer place and was never afraid to voice strong opinions.

He was instrumental in driving the Rebels' gang out of the city, when it tried to set up a base there last year.