Motorcycle gangs are attempting to infiltrate police by joining up, union boss Greg O'Connor says. And he warns a budget freeze on the force will mean fewer are weeded out at the recruitment stage.
O'Connor opened the Police Association's annual conference this morning with the stark warning.
''Police, particularly over the last four or five years, have been finding that when they do their checks of those seeking to join police that they have quite close links often to organised crime, particularly the gangs. We are talking dozens of people ... attempting to join police,'' he later told reporters.
He added: ''We hope we've screened them all.''
He said the Head Hunters gang have increased their numbers from 25 to about 92 ''and growing''.
''They are growing. They have moved into Upper Hutt. The Hells Angels have moved into Nelson. These are national crime franchises while we are inevitably retrenched,'' he said.
Attempting to infiltrate police is ''absolutely'' a deliberate strategy, and members keep dossiers on officers.
''Under a funding freeze every part of police is under pressure and that includes recruiting. Recruiting is being centralised to one or two pods and in the districts there won't be the scrutiny,'' he said.
O'Connor says no increase in the budget means the police must find $200m in the next two years and, potentially, $400m in the following two years.
''That can only come from one place - frontline policing - because it's a pretty lean machine already.
''Clearly police with a frozen budget are going to have to be very particular about where that spending goes. Invariably the spending goes where the political expediency lies, and that's around numbers.''
He told delegates that crime in New York has soared in the wake of funding cuts. It ''got on top'' of crime rates in the 1990s but has seen its first rises in 20 years.
''They are big rises. Double digits in many precincts and much of it in violent crime.'' The New York police department has 6000 fewer officers than it did 10 years ago, he said.
O'Connor and other delegates also raised concerns about the number of non-sworn staff losing their jobs - about 170 to date.
''With the cuts we are facing there are likely to be more,'' he said. ''The people go - the jobs don't go and someone has got to do it.''
Police Minister Anne Tolley also addressed the conference this morning. She said new technology, better intelligence and prevention strategies are allowing investment in the frontline.
''They are getting really good information - it's about the policing in the right place at the right time...and using those police resources well and effectively,'' she told reporters.
''That's not a scatter gun approach, the way we might have done it 10 to 15 years ago. It's a quite different way of working. But yes it is a challenge ... and gangs have an enormous effect in our communities.''
Labour's police spokesman Kris Faafoi said the Police Association's concerns needed to be taken seriously.
"When the head of our Police Association raises the alarm about budget constraints adversely impacting the police recruitment process, we should listen," Faafoi said.
He said gangs were becoming more organised and were getting wise to technology ''to aid their criminal activity''.
"Budget cuts and staff cuts are leaving our police more vulnerable and are loading pressure on the front line,'' he said.
"All the while we are told gangs are buffering their numbers and broadening their base. National's budget cuts are putting the integrity of the front line itself at risk.''
- © Fairfax NZ News
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