Earlier this year, I heard that a dairy in my neighbourhood had suffered several burglaries one after the other, so I popped in to see if to the owners were okay – they are a caring couple, much loved in my electorate.
Bizarrely, I was there before the Police. That would have been unlikely the case when every shopping area and suburb had its own community constable.
In our area, St Lukes, Pt Chev and Mt Albert have each lost their community constables through police restructuring. They call it ‘streamlining’ but each of those neighbourhoods has experienced it very much as a loss.
Community constables really know their local areas, understand the problems and characters involved, and because of that they can be strategic and targeted in the use of their time.
Now they have gone, centralised into some nameless grouping miles away; that is supposed to be more efficient – but the faces keep changing and the numbers keep dropping when they should be increasing.
As a result, victims of crime in my neighbourhood now sometimes ask me to phone the police for them – to hurry them along.
My impression is that our Police do the best job they can, but their caseloads are too big and their stations are understaffed, and as a result, fundamentals like response times and crime resolution are starting to show cracks.
That is borne out by the numbers: close to 90% of burglaries – that is 164 a day – go unsolved in New Zealand.
Some local Councils have become so frustrated at the dwindling numbers of available police officers, that they have started paying for community policing initiatives – such as security patrols and CCTV monitoring.
Well, that is why we pay taxes. We should not have to pay twice.
Meanwhile, at a national level, 100 fewer police officers on our roads due to funding cuts coincided with a tragic spike in the road toll over Queen’s Birthday weekend.
Quite simply, the government is not prioritising our police force.
For example, the Police received $250 million in new funding over four years in the recent budget; $230 million of that will cover salaries and wages, leaving $20 million for everything else.
What they really need is a $200 million increase. That would mean more cops out there protecting New Zealanders, and doing the job they are there to do – including proactive policing and the prevention work that saves us money; but currently they do not have time for such protection.
Protection for ministers
Earlier this month, Ministers Paula Bennett and Nick Smith hosted a housing meeting in Auckland. They were guarded by so many police officers that it became a minor media story in itself.
Let us hope that our government starts to see ordinary New Zealanders as also worthy of police care and protection, and start funding them properly.
A reduction in crime will save New Zealand money in the long-term.
David Shearer is an elected Member of Parliament from Mt Albert in Auckland and Labour Party’s spokesman for Foreign Affairs. Please read our response to the above article, ‘Journalists aware of Questions ban’ and other related stuff in this Special Report.