14 Jan 2013

Sole-charge police not at higher risk - Commissioner

10:15 pm on 14 January 2013

Police Commissioner Peter Marshall says sole-charge officers are not in any more danger than other police officers.

Constable Perry Griffen, the only officer in Kawhia, was hit from behind and kicked in the head while arresting a 19-year-old man in the Waikato town on Friday night. His pistol was dislodged from his belt and his taser was taken.

The Police Association is calling for more back up for lone officers, while the Labour Party wants sole-charge stations scrapped altogether.

Mr Marshall said assaults on sole-charge officers are not more common than those on officers in larger stations.

He said officers can always call for back up before taking any action, and the country's geography means it is simply not practical or necessary to do away with single post positions.

The attack on Constable Griffen was the fifth on an officer in Waikato since just before Christmas.

However, the commissioner told Radio New Zealand's Summer Report programme there is no evidence that attacks on police are happening more frequently, but when they do occur they are generally fuelled by alcohol.

"In three of the instances in the Waikato ... there were two or more police officers present. The common factor appears to be alcohol and drugs - and there is also a particular element who will always have a go at the police."

Mr Marshall says police find their quietest days are Good Friday and Easter Sunday, when little or no alcohol is sold.

Police Association vice-president Stuart Mills said the constable in Kawhia would have been safer if a second officer had been there.

Mr Mills said police need to reconsider how lone officers approach potentially dangerous situations. Officers may have to wait until back-up arrives before engaging in such incidents.

Fire officers happy to help

Kawhia's Chief Fire Officer Callan Stewart says his staff were not in any danger when they responded to assist Constable Perry Griffen on Friday.

Mr Stewart and six other firefighters were called to the Kawhia Wharf to help. He told Radio New Zealand's Checkpoint programme on Monday that, though fire officers aren't police, they are there to help the community.

"I wasn't fearful. I just did a dynamic risk assessment. The risk assessment that I made told me that the risk to firefighters was extremely minimal.

"People were glad to see us, people were happy for us to be there, and so I felt at no stage that any of my firefighters were at risk."

Mr Stewart says firefighters are trained for such incidents.