McVicar questions policing changes

By Simon Hendery

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Napier Conservative Party candidate, Garth McVicar. Photo / Duncan Brown
Napier Conservative Party candidate, Garth McVicar. Photo / Duncan Brown

Napier Conservative Party candidate Garth McVicar says policing changes in the city raise safety concerns, despite assurances from the Police Minister and the district's top cop that front-line staff numbers will not be cut.

Mr McVicar, the founder of the Sensible Sentencing Trust, wrote to Police Minister Anne Tolley last month raising concerns about the amalgamation of Napier and Hastings police services, and the impact on staff morale and public safety.

Asked to comment on the letter, Ms Tolley said it: "should be seen for the election-time politicking which it is".

She said that while staff deployment decisions were made by district commanders, any suggestion that there were plans to decrease the police presence in Napier was "absolute nonsense".

Eastern District Police Commander Sandra Venables also said there were no plans to decrease the number of frontline staff in Napier.

The district had gone through a significant period of change over the past two years, which had affected morale, but the merger of Napier and Hastings police was "working well", Superintendent Venables said.

"As identified some time ago, there has in the past been a lot of unnecessary duplication of work in both stations. Several work groups and jobs have been centralised, which has proven much more efficient and streamlined many areas of police work," she said.

"Our police staff cover both cities as demand dictates. The front counter of the Napier police station has been closed on the odd occasion late at night due to operational requirements." She said several initiatives were underway to address staff morale issues.

"This is an ongoing challenge for us and we are aiming to improve our staff engagement in the future."

Superintendent Venables said that while police had been in discussions with the Fire Service regarding a combined emergency services site on Taradale Road, no decision has been made on whether it would go ahead.

Mr McVicar said co-locating fire and police services raised safety issues, as did basing staff out of Hastings because of the potential delayed response time in the event of an emergency in Napier.

He said he was not politicising the issue but wanted more definitive answers on what further changes were planned.

Mr McVicar has organised a public meeting on the issue for Sunday September 14 - six days before the election.

Police and civic leaders would be invited to the 1pm meeting at the Napier Sailing Club, he said.

"I have huge respect for police and the least they deserve is to know what the future holds for them. When the rumours start it's very hard to stop so we we need to know honestly what is proposed and give the police an opportunity to have input into that."

Police Association regional director Emmet Lynch said restructuring in the district had had an impact on staff, particularly non-sworn employees who were first told about it in November last year.

Mr Lynch said the association appreciated police management were having to deal with restricted funding and a frozen budget in a district that had high crime rates across a number of categories.

"However, our number one concern is that public safety and staff safety are not compromised."

Mr Lynch said the association was concerned about occasional over-night closures of the Napier police station front counter.

"Sometimes it's forced due to some resourcing issues and that can be anything from sickness through to operational necessity, but we're concerned that a reasonably-sized provincial police station is closing its doors on a semi-regular basis due to these factors. We think the public expect a level of service and we want to deliver that."

National's Napier candidate, Wayne Walford, said the Government had introduced a number of initiatives to reduce crime, which would benefit Hawke's Bay.

Labour's candidate in the electorate, Stuart Nash, said the loss of non-sworn staff was a concern for the city because the administrative and support service they provided to front-line officers was a vital part of effective policing.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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