Thinning blue line as Oz calls

STEVE KILGALLON
Last updated 05:00 17/02/2013

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Australian police are luring Kiwi cops from Maori, Polynesian and Asian backgrounds over the ditch in a "targeted and aggressive" recruitment campaign.

Frontline New Zealand cops admitted many of them were being tempted - particularly by the Queensland, Northern Territory and Western Australian forces - by the better pay on offer.

But the New Zealand police claim the trans-Tasman push is not working - fewer cops quit the force last year than average.

The Star-Times understands Queensland, where its state premier Campbell Newman has pledged 1100 new cops inside three years, wants Maori, Polynesian and Asian police to meet its changing demographic. And Australia's key target is Counties Manukau, New Zealand's most ethnically diverse region and force.

Brendan Ryan, human resources manager for Counties Manukau police, said: "It's a bit of a stream [leaving] at the moment, and we are concerned. Absolutely [we're worried] because they tend to be experienced police officers; you can't just go and recruit someone else from college and put them out on the street and get that experience.

"That's why the Australians want them, so yes, we are worried, it is a concern and we are monitoring things very closely.

"They are maybe targeting Counties because the staff here are very, very experienced at dealing with a broad base of ethnicities. We've got around 160 ethnicities here so we are very, very diverse."

But, nationally at least, police say the Aussies aren't making a dent in the 8900-strong force, and 10 of the 12 police districts are overstaffed.

Police national HR manager Alan Cassidy said policing was a "global market" where New Zealand, Australia and the UK recruited in each other's patches.

"At the moment, Australia have quite a targeted, aggressive recruitment campaign focused on the upper north and Auckland metro region. It's not unusual . . . we're not particularly worried."

He had heard of the campaign to recruit a range of ethnicities, saying New Zealand had diversified their force better than others, so "if other organisations can't grow their own, they will target ours".

But he said attrition figures weren't skewed towards Polynesian officers and while last December saw a spike in cops leaving, 2012 was still below average, with 3.7 per cent of police quitting against an historical average of 5 per cent.

The Police Association is also unconcerned. President Greg O'Connor said there was a lot of chat among serving police that wasn't reflected by statistics. "There is talk about Aussie states targeting Polynesian and Maori, but it's anecdotal. It's rumours not borne out by numbers."

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But one South Auckland policeman said his colleagues knew the Australians wanted Polynesian cops and felt it was damaging the campaign to recruit more Polynesians.

One long-serving officer of Polynesian origin said he had counselled fellow cops not to leave for Australia, but knew many who had. "It's the worst ever," he said.

The Police Association's Police News magazine ran a story last year relaying the salaries offered in the Northern Territory, saying: "The question some police employees here are asking is not ‘why go?', but ‘why not?' "

One policeman moving to Perth later this year has been promised an $86,000 salary - as well as being paid to undertake a fast-track 13-week course. The Northern Territory matches that, and offers up to $22,000 in resettlement. "It's quite a bit more when start pay here is $52,000," he said.

"Everyone knows it's there, everyone talks about it. I've got nothing holding me here and the money does appeal."

Another policeman said: "I know four guys on the training wing now and another watching the website [for vacancies] ready to go. If I could persuade the wife, I would probably go too. I saw that story about all the navy going to Australia, and I thought ‘well, it's just the same with us'. It's an open secret."

And another said Kiwis were in demand for their corruption-free reputation; three members of his section had moved in the past six months.

Ryan, however, has warned those tempted that it's difficult to secure residency even with a job, and in the Northern Territory police face postings to inhospitable places. "We try, but they've heard another story and they're not always listening too hard."

Police headquarters are in the process of compiling statistics of police crossing the Tasman.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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