5 Feb 2016

Locals wary of West Coast policing changes

11:29 am on 5 February 2016

The loss of Karamea's only constable will lead to an increase in crime, Buller District Mayor Garry Howard says.

Mr Howard co-chaired a meeting last night where 350 residents voiced their concern about a review aiming to centralise several police services in Greymouth.

Police are proposing the town's sole police role to be axed, although a patrol base would remain and a police presence would be managed seasonally.

With the nearest police 66 kilometres away, crime will rise, Mr Howard said.

"If you don't have him there crime will certainly go up. It's as simple as, if you know you've got a local police officer will you drive home from the local pub, or if the local policeman is an hour and a half away, will you drive home?"

People will decide to drink and drive if they don't think they will be caught, he said.

The next closest police, 66km away, only worked 24 days a month, and the next closest would be more than 90km away.

Buller District Council acting chief executive Craig Scanlon said about 350 people turned out to the meeting in Westport last night to air their concerns about the review, which aims to centralise several police services in Greymouth.

Tasman District commander superintendent Karyn Malthus said a new tactical squad with a focus on organised crime was aimed at enhancing policing on the West Coast area, which was raised by staff during last year's review.

Earlier she said the review would not reduce overall staff numbers - but some roles would go, while others would be created.

Mr Scanlon co-chaired the meeting with Mr Howard, and police were on hand to answer questions.

He said the large turnout at such short notice was a reflection of the mood of the community.

Mr Scanlon said residents were confused when statistics showed 63 percent of youth crime recorded on the West Coast occurred in the Buller area with less in the Grey and Westland districts. It added more uncertainty to an area reeling in economic hardship.

"The justification it's worked as a model in other parts of the country doesn't wash with us. It worked in other areas because they chucked significant increases to staff in those areas to make it work. They're actually re-deploying the same amount of resources to the West Coast but taking them out of the Buller."

He said it was apparent a lot of people left last night's meeting more frustrated than when they arrived.

Mr Howard said the turnout, at such short notice, sent a clear message that the community was unhappy.

"A report summary was only made available on the 25th of January and submissions close on the 19th of February which does not allow a great deal of time for public consideration and feedback.

"We are being forced to take on board the implications and make submissions within a 24-day period. It would have been reasonable to have engagement with the public through the review process, possibly some community focus groups or discussion with community support organisations."

He said the challenges facing the community meant it was "not the time to pressure-cook change", but it appeared the process was being forced through.

West Coast Police will be in Greymouth today and in Karamea on Monday to talk with the public about the service delivery review.

West Coast Area Commander Inspector Mel Aitken and local staff will be available to explain the proposal and clarify any matters.

Karyn Malthus said police staff, the community and stakeholders would be consulted before a final decision was due by the end of March.