By Jake Beleski
A Masterton-based incident that grabbed headlines nationwide may have been avoided if there were more police staff on the job.
That was the view of New Zealand Police Association president Chris Cahill before the government announced on February 2 its plan to increase police staff by 1125 in the next four years.
In January, a man was left forgotten in a holding cell at Masterton District Court for 48 hours, in an incident that had police staff devastated.
“With stretched and stressed staff comes the probability of safety risks and service failures,” Mr Cahill said.
“We must ask ourselves if the limited number of staff available in Wairarapa over a mid-January weekend contributed to the member of the public being inadvertently left in the cells for 48 hours – we cannot tolerate a status quo in which staff shortages lead to this type of incident.”
He said New Zealand needed to improve its ratio of one officer to every 526 people, which was well below even the target of one to every 500 set by National in 2008.
He used Queensland, with a population similar to New Zealand in size and urban and rural split, as an example of what New Zealand should try to emulate.
“Where we really need to be is one officer to every 413 people.”
It is unclear how many additional officers would be assigned to Wairarapa, but Detective Senior Sergeant Barry Bysouth said staff would be deployed to areas around the country where demand and priorities were high.
“I have no idea [what increased police numbers would mean for Wairarapa] . . . I would be hopeful we would see more staff here but every other station in the country will be asking for the same.”
Many rural areas have pleaded for larger police numbers, and New Zealand First police spokesperson Ron Mark has openly criticised National for not making it clear where new recruits would be based.
“How many sworn officers will be based in Waipukurau, Woodville, Pahiatua, Carterton, Martinborough and Featherston by June next year and June 2020 is anyone’s guess,” he said in a statement.
“And where does that leave the people of Kaeo, Northland, who had 371 burglaries for just 11 arrests in the year to June 2016?”
He said his remarks were based on the fact that Police Minister Paula Bennett, when speaking in parliament, was unable to give any indication as to where the new recruits would be based.
One group hoping for a large increase in police numbers for rural communities is Federated Farmers (FF).
A survey conducted by FF last year showed the rural sector was plagued by thieves, rustlers and poachers.
And to make the situation worse, not enough farmers were reporting their losses.
In a survey of more than 1000 farmers, nearly 60 per cent of respondents said they had not reported stock theft to police, and 38 per cent had not reported stolen property.
FF rural security spokesperson Rick Powdrell said one of the key messages they push is that farmers need to work more closely with police to deter and catch offenders.
“Obviously if crime is reported, then it gives the powers-that-be in Wellington a better idea of where extra police resources are needed.
“Farmers should not hesitate to report crime and should regularly review their security measures.”
Labour leader Andrew Little said National’s policy was a “skinny version” of Labour’s promise to introduce 1000 more officers within three years. New Zealand First leader Winston Peters says he wants 1800 more police recruited within five years.