Police cuts for district despite rise in crime

By Doug Laing

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Police numbers are being cut in Hawke's Bay despite statistics showing those already in the job are struggling to cope with the worst crime rates in the country.

The losses of at least seven sworn police and 10 support staff throughout the Eastern Police District, comprising Hawke's Bay and Gisborne-East Coast's Tairawhiti area, were revealed to staff at the end of last month.

Sworn officers will drop from 424 to 417, and their support staff will be slashed by more than 15 per cent, from 65 to 55, to meet "ratified" numbers for the district, staff were told.

But police performance statistics show staff are having to do more each year.

The cuts, known to be causing concern to staff, have been forced by nationwide budget constraints. New Eastern Police commander Superintendent Sandra Venables was unable to be contacted last night by Hawke's Bay Today for comment.

Revealing the figures publicly yesterday, Labour Party Tukituki election candidate Anna Lorck asked "Why?", when the offence rate per 10,000 of population last year was almost 14.5 per cent higher than the next-worst of the 11 other police districts. The district was also on top in all categories of violence, sexual offending, damage and public disorder, and burglary.

The Eastern District was one of only two to record an increase in reported offences, which was also mirrored across most categories, and across the country the rate at which crimes were being resolved was falling.

Ms Lorck drew attention to latest police performance figures which show the rate at which officers have attended domestic disputes in the district has rocketed over the last five years. There were 1793 incidents in 2009-2010, and it exploded from 3288 in the 2011-2012 year to 4526 in the latest 12-months' figures.

Many other performance figures show police workloads in the area are increasing by significant amounts, and the resignations of police in the region have reached unusually high levels.

"What it shows is that they are doing much more work but that there are no more police," she said.

Ms Lorck's interest was sharpened by Parliamentary statements by MP Craig Foss, whom she is challenging at the General Election on September 20.

"According to the latest police statistics, Hawke's Bay has the highest crime in the country and has become the most dangerous place in New Zealand for violence on our streets and in our homes," she said.

"Only a couple of weeks ago Craig Foss stood in Parliament and told the country crime in Hawke's Bay was 'low' and that he was proud of the work he and his Government was doing in fighting crime with 99 per cent more 'foot patrols' in Hawke's Bay.

"The truth is there are no more police being employed to work on the beat," she said. "What it actually shows is our police are the best in the country at recording their work, and as crime is increasing they are attending even more incidents.

"While it is important to work within budget restraints and look at better ways of policing, the priority must be on keeping people safe."

She said Mr Foss had accused her of "cherry picking" statistics and that he was "telling it straight".

"He said crime was low, when the exact opposite is happening."

Police Association spokesman Luke Shadbolt said last night his members' concerns have been conveyed to management, including particular worries about the loss of support staff and the extra work which would be placed on officers.

"It is a significant concern," he said.

"It's the results of a frozen budget coming home to roost. The district commander is between a rock and a hard place."

Mr Foss was unaware last night of the plans to reduce staff, but said Police Minister and East Coast MP Anne Tolley had told him recently 80 new recruits had been sworn-in and police were maintaining the target of 8900 officers throughout the country.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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