26 May 2021

National labels police budget reduction 'atrocious', Labour fires back

1:53 pm on 26 May 2021

The police budget has shrunk by more than $90 million this year, a move the National Party is calling atrocious.

A police car outside a cordon in South Auckland

Police Commissioner Andrew Coster has $2.189 billion at his disposal this year, including a small boost of $12m dedicated to crime prevention. File photo Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly

But the government is defending the numbers, saying some funds are still under negotiation, and the police are still better off than they were under National.

Police Commissioner Andrew Coster has $2.189 billion at his disposal this year, including a small boost of $12m dedicated to crime prevention.

But overall the budget has dropped from last year, with the road safety programme taking a $63m hit, investigations losing $4.5m, and primary response also suffering a $5.5m drop.

National's police spokesperson Simeon Brown said it was atrocious.

National MP for Pakuranga Simeon Brown

Simeon Brown. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

"There was cuts to the police budget in a time when gang membership has increased by 50 percent under this government, we've seen a doubling in serious assaults, and we've seen a huge increase in demand for family harm-related callouts and mental health-related callouts," Brown said.

"The police are under enormous pressure and this government has failed to deliver anything new for the police."

Police Minister Poto Williams said any complaints coming from Simeon Brown were a bit rich.

"When we inherited the (police) budget of $1.54b in 2017, we have increased that over time by 30 percent to $2b, so we are recording record amounts of funding to the police but also increasing our investment in police numbers as well."

The budget figures were somewhat misleading because the road policing figures, a $63m drop in funding for 2021, were still under negotiation, Williams said.

Poto Williams

Poto Williams. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

The Ministry of Transport and police were in a road safety partnership, and while Williams could not give a timeline or details of the negotiations, more funds should be allocated at some stage.

"It is a discussion that we have about where the funding will sit for particular aspects of road policing, but we have shared responsibilities for that.

"Those negotiations happen all the time, and that will depend on what programme of work we're rolling out."

The remaining hole in the budget was largely from a one off shovel ready project from last year that was never going to be renewed, Williams said.

For instance, the drop in the Primary Response fund was a result of specialist Covid-19 funding coming to an end as it was no longer required, while the Investigations drop came from the Proceeds of Crime Fund Legal Cost Recovery, which the minister's office said was separate to the budget process.

Therefore, the police budget had not really changed, she said.

Brown said going nowhere was going backwards.

"With crime increasing, with gang membership rapidly growing, I would have thought this budget would have been an opportunity for the government to bring forward money to deliver their promise of 1800 new police over three years.

"There's no new money for that programme. Now it's not going to be completed until 2023, which keeps the police under the pump without the resource they need to tackle the growing crime issues we're seeing across New Zealand."

Goals for extra police

Williams said the government had achieved one of its two 1800 new police goals - the one where it graduated 1800 new police over three years.

She was confident they would reach the second goal, adding 1800 extra police by 2023.

It had originally said that goal would be complete by July last year.

Of those extra police, 700 were supposed to be dedicated to fighting organised crime and gangs, and despite those roles not being filled yet, Williams praised the government's work in that area, citing the work of Operation Tauwhiro.

"There have been some real advances in terms of the police operations, and I just want to point to Tauwhiro as one of them," Williams said.

"(It was) launched in February, and in that time, 350 firearms seized, $2.46m in cash seized, 378 people arrested.

"I think this speaks to a police force that we've made record investment in and that is actually proving that the investment that we have made already is paying off."

But has the government given any dedicated funds to Operation Tauwhiro?

"No, that's come out of baseline [funding] and that is an operation that happens, when and where police identify gang activity that is increasing or elevating they put Operation Tauwhiro in place in those areas."

Latest police figures estimate there are 8003 gang members in New Zealand.

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