Public needs a say on policing changes

The announced shakeup of the police Central District has been pitched as a repositioning of police staff to areas that are under-resourced in terms of officers on the ground.

Palmerston North City looks set to be one of the biggest losers, with many of the reallocated positions likely to move from the district's larger centres to places like Horowhenua and Whanganui.

Central District area commander Superintendent Russell Gibson said there were to be no redundancies or forced relocations as the changes would come about by natural attrition. This means staff who leave would not be replaced and their positions would be shifted to other areas. Initially it may have been a relief to the rank and file to hear they would not be losing their jobs or be forced to move.

But the true cost of the changes will only be revealed when they have been signed off, and resources start to leave Palmerston North.

Anyone who has seen a colleague leave and not be replaced will know the extra workload is then inevitably spread to the remaining employees. Rarely is this workload reduced to cater for the loss so, to quote Tolkien, it can become a case of scraping butter over too much bread. Having over-worked, stressed and fatigued police officers isn't good for anyone - not the officers' loved ones, the public and certainly not for themselves.

Mr Gibson quite rightly points out that crime rates are dropping in Palmerston North, even against a rising population. Putting a finger on the cause of this is not an exact science but the high level of proactive policing exercised in our community must surely play a role. Whether it's police visiting schools, allowing motorists to attend safety clinics in lieu of fines, or organising events like last weekend's Awesome Awapuni Day, proactive policing not only prevents crime, it helps polish the image of the police in the eyes of the community.

Mr Gibson has trumpeted their good work and offered assurances that prevention and response work is not likely to be jeopardised. But there can be no denying Palmerston North police are already working to capacity. While the ability to respond to major events will always be there, a reduction in numbers might see crimes perceived as minor (burglaries, car thefts) suffer delays in response.

The Police Association has called for the community to have its say about any changes - a move Mr Gibson has endorsed. This is an important point as the right to police the public comes from our acceptance of being governed by a state that uses the police as a law-enforcing instrument. The community has a democratic right to determine how and by whom it should be protected, and it needs to make its voice heard early. Plans have not been finalised but once details have been decided, it may take a major effort to change them.

Manawatu Standard