Cop blows whistle on rural crisis
Too few cops, too much territoryMATT BOWEN
A controversial on-call police regime which has a lone, off-duty officer covering a massive swathe of the Waikato, is under review.
The development comes after a serving police officer, who asked not to be named, slammed resourcing for rural cops, highlighting fears that someone would have to die before there was a change.
Years of budget freezes have also driven down morale, the source said.
In March last year the two on-call officers covering Matamata and Morrinsville were cut to one, despite staff opposition, Waikato-Bay of Plenty Police Association director Wayne Aberhart said. He believes it was a cost-saving measure in an already stretched police force.
"There was a review late last year but I wasn't privy to that," Aberhart said. "There's a new person in charge and he is reviewing the matter completely. I trust he will be complete and thorough and I've had his assurance that he will be thorough."
"Unhappiness" among the ranks sparked it, Aberhart said.
New Waikato Police District Commander Superintendent Bruce Bird said he had been informed "of some teething problems" as the district moved to a new operating model.
Systems were being evaluated and reviews of demand were constantly undertaken, he said.
The situation at Morrinsville and Matamata was thrust into the spotlight in April after a source expressed concerns for officers' safety after hours.
Now another police source has spoken out of frustration and concern for fellow officers' safety. "The way we see this is the only time there's going to be change is when someone ends up dead," the source said.
"We're just hoping it's not a cop or a member of the public, but that's what we're foreseeing."
The source said there had been priority one calls - the most urgent - in Matamata, and the on-call officer from Morrinsville had taken from 45 to 60 minutes to get there under siren.
An example was the woman whose body was dumped outside Matamata's Pohlen Hospital at 4am after being struck by a car on the Kaimai Range in April last year, shortly after the changes were implemented.
The attending officer was from Morrinsville and it took them 45 minutes to get there, the source said.
A Matamata police officer responding would have been there in five minutes. "Within a kilometre of that medical centre you have three police officers and the police house is just around the corner."
But the source said it was not only East Waikato that was stretched.
"The other night you had one member in Cambridge Police Station covering Te Awamutu, Otorohanga, Te Kuiti, and [the officer] got sent to a job at Matamata - that's a huge patch for one person."
Aberhart said Waikato Police were operating on "bare bones" after four years of budget freezes.
"I've been here for 14 years in the Waikato and one of the things I've always thought, but I've never had any statistics to back it up, is that Waikato is under resourced . . . when there's a hole in the front line or the front counter, there's no one to back it up."
Senior staff have defended the new system where resources from any area can be called on to assist others via the District Command Centre.
The source said it was known as "One Waikato" but the running joke in rural areas is that it's "One Hamilton".
"All the resources are getting sucked into Hamilton . . . You've got enough jobs in Hamilton that they're always tied up."
The source said officers "try to fight to set the roles right - to get the support and resources". "You've got frontline cops who are basically bashing their heads against the wall saying ‘we're trying' but there's no meeting half way. We try to use examples. The bosses don't want to hear it."
Bird said he had been meeting staff in his first month as district commander. "[I] am heartened by the way they approach their work and their commitment to achieving positive outcomes for the community," he said.
"I'm dedicated to providing a work environment where staff feel supported and one which enables staff to perform at their full potential."
Police bosses are pushing staff to drive down reported crime rates and staff play the system to reduce statistics, a source in the force claims. In 2011, a national operating strategy was implemented in the department known as Prevention First. It aims to drive reported crime down 13 per cent by 2014/2015. Much of the push was based on statistics, the source said. "The only stats you can't twist in the system are deaths, such as road toll – everything else does get twisted. A lot of crime doesn't get reported because people are seeing, well, there's no point – and that's true." The source gave examples, such as an informant who doesn't wish to pursue a crime. "It will get turned into a 2i or an information job. And information doesn't show up as a stat because it's not a crime, it's just something there, so they'll do that."
- Waikato Times