23 Apr 2019

Government may not meet target to add 1800 police in three years

9:10 am on 23 April 2019

The government's promise of adding an extra 1800 sworn police officers in three years, could end up taking longer.

Police generic

Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

But the Minister of Police, Stuart Nash, is unapologetic about offering up a big, aspirational promise, saying they will reach the 1800 mark, sooner or later.

There's a key word in the government's coalition agreement when it comes to their promises around the police - strive.

Mr Nash said the government's goal was always going to be tough, which is why it said it would strive to add 1800 new police.

Coming up to 18 months under the new government and the police promise is looking aspirational indeed.

Mr Nash said, as of 1 April, 666 officers had been added to the police force since July 2017, and there are a record number of sworn officers, at 9506.

But to reach their target, the police will need to double the amount of people they are adding to the force each month, over the next 15 months.

"I've always said it's an aspirational target. I've always said it would be a real challenge, but we're up for it," Mr Nash said.

"If it takes us slightly longer, well, I don't apologise for that because we are delivering hundreds more officers into our communities."

'They talk big and deliver very little'

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Chris Bishop Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

National Party police spokesperson Chris Bishop told Morning Report that 1800 new police was a target that had always been too ambitious.

"It's going to end up being a broken promise by the Labour-New Zealand First government," Mr Bishop said.

"They made a big song and dance when they came to power 18 months or so ago about how they'd add 1800 extra sworn front line police over three years.

"They've only added 500 or so in 18 months so far, and they're really on track for about 1000. They're going to be nowhere near what they promised New Zealanders."

He said the big problem was the attrition rate.

"I'm told anecdotally there are quite senior, quite experienced people of expertise who are leaving the police. They're the wrong sort of people we want leaving."

"We definitely want new people joining," he said, but without losing experienced officers.

He said there was nothing wrong with striving to be ambitious but "this is a recurrent theme of this government ... they talk big and they deliver very little, whether it's KiwiBuild or anything else ... it's certainly true with police numbers as well".

Mr Bishop said National had promised to add 880 police in four years, and that was based on advice from the police.

"We never thought it was achievable. We had a much more realistic plan," Mr Bishop said.

"You just literally can't train enough officers in that time, when taking into account officers leaving the force at the same time.

"But politicians are the ones who make the promises, and they need to be held to account for them."

The government does look set to blow away National's proposed figure of 880 police in four years, and Chris Bishop acknowledged that.

Minister of Police, Stuart Nash. The Government is responding to increased drug-related deaths by cracking down on the suppliers of synthetic drugs.

Stuart Nash Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

But it does not change the fact that it had promised 1800 extra police in three years, and at this rate the government is on track for just 1100.

The government said their increased funding of the police only started last year, so the recruiting numbers are bound to increase and they could catch up.

But Mr Nash is sticking by his point that 1800 was always an aspirational target that the government was striving for, and there's an important reason for that.

"The strive isn't a weasel word, it's to ensure that we do get the right men and women into our communities," Mr Nash said.

"When we say it's delivering 1800 more officers, we still need to train about 3000 officers to get that 1800 increase."

He said he was told by police that "we can do 1800 over three years but that would be a stretch because there are some variables that we just can't control ... like how many men and women leave the police service".

"If we can't do it in three years, then we will still deliver 1800. We've got one of the lowest levels of attrition in the state sector, but we've still got around 400 to 500 officers leaving each year."

Last year about 413 officers left, he told Morning Report.

In 2017, the New Zealand Police Workplace Survey showed that 60 percent of the officers said they had an unrealistic level of workplace stress and 60 percent said they weren't meeting the promises they were making to their communities.

"I make no apologies for being aspirational. We're delivering hundreds more officers into our community."

Mr Nash said he was already seeing the effect of the rise in police numbers, and said crime has dropped since the government was elected.

He said the strong presence for the Christchurch terror attack, and the Nelson fires, showed the police can act proactively with the increased numbers on the ground.

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