29 Mar 2021

Some frontline police refusing high-risk callouts prompts more training

6:56 am on 29 March 2021

Frontline police officers are increasingly fearful of being attacked or shot on the job and some have refused to go to high-risk callouts.

Police generic

RNZ has learned of times constables have refused to attend callouts, such is the fear of jobs turning out badly. File photo Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

As a result most frontline constables will get an extra week of training this year to help them cope with the increasing risks.

The Frontline Skills Enhancement Course will also help make use of the mothballed Police Training College in Porirua, which is not processing new recruits for the time being.

The course will take 1200 constables with at least two years' experience, aiming to improve their tactical and operational skills.

Police say it comes following feedback from staff, specifically around the needs for practical firearms training, tactical communications training, and even first aid.

Police assistant commissioner Tusha Penny said the course is part of the police's Frontline Safety Improvement Programme, set up by Commissioner Andrew Coster last year.

"One of the key reasons to do this as well is to make sure that we stop, reflect and go, where to next year and beyond for our frontline training," Penny said.

"A really big component of this is listening to our people who are on the street every shift to ensure that our training is aligned with our operational requirements."

Tusha Penny addressed media today following the arrests.

Officer training needs to be aligned with operational requirements, says assistant commissioner Tusha Penny. Photo: RNZ

Those operational requirements appear to be changing fast.

The proliferation of firearms and a general increase in aggression from offenders has frontline cops concerned.

RNZ has learned of times constables have refused to attend callouts, such is the fear of jobs turning out badly.

Staff fears not a surprise

Police Association president Chris Cahill said it is no surprise staff are fearful heading to some jobs because they are only human.

"I think it's a reflection of what we're seeing, the dangers out there," Cahill said.

"That's why this training is really only one part of the safety improvement programme.

"We see the deployment and looking at how the officers are deployed, single crewing, those sorts of things, as being important to consider as well, and also what equipment they have."

Penny said she has not heard of staff refusing to attend jobs, but that does not mean it has not happened.

"What I do know about policing is, they're mums and dads and sons and daughters and uncles and aunties, and I couldn't respect our frontline more if I tried," Penny said.

"These are our community members who step up to be guardians who say, you know what, when someone rings 111, and it's their darkest day, or there are incidents that the community want to run from, we're actually gonna go and we're gonna try and keep everyone safe."

Increase in IPCA complaints

The flip side of the fear officers are experiencing on the job is when things go wrong.

The Independent Police Conduct Authority has seen a rise in complaints in recent years, and one theme is situations where officers have mishandled situations.

RNZ has been told there is always a worst-case scenario in an officer's mind, and without adequate training, they are often overreacting to lesser incidents.

Penny said those incidents are dealt with by the IPCA when they arise, and help inform training blocks like the ones frontline constables will undertake.

Cahill said it is always easy to look back with the benefit of hindsight, but policing in the moment is no easy task.

He said this course will only improve those outcomes.

"What it does is recognise that frontline policing is a specialist area in its own right," he said.

"It should be treated similarly to things like the CIB or Youth Aid, but we haven't followed that up with training in the past, so having specialist ongoing training we think is of real value."

Gangs 'feeling more emboldened'

Simeon Brown, MP for Pakuranga

National Party police spokesperson Simeon Brown. Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

National Party police spokesperson Simeon Brown welcomed the course, which he said is a good step by the organisation to support their own staff development.

But he said the government needed to do more to support the police.

"The reality is this is happening because our streets are becoming less safe and we're seeing an increasing presence of gangs who are feeling more emboldened, and are not afraid to use their firearms which they didn't hand back in the gun buyback last year."

Brown said the government needs to deliver on its promise of 1800 new police, which he said is still more than 400 officers short more than nine months after the deadline.

The Frontline Skills Enhancement Course will run throughout the year.

A police spokesperson said the police recruitment pipeline will likely reopen again in the coming months on a district or area basis, where applications are needed most.

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