War on drugs sparks war of words

By Patrick O'Sullivan

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More police are needed on the front line to combat a P epidemic says Napier MP and Labour's police spokesman Stuart Nash, but police say all of them are fighting the scourge and helping those it affects.

Police Minister Judith Collins' response to written questions from Mr Nash said the number of sworn police officers nationally whose primary role was investigating drug crime dropped from 178 in 2012/2013 to 166 in 2015/2016. At the same time the amount of meth seized went from 6,096 grams in 2012 to 50,218 grams in 2015.

"The price of meth has dropped, the quantity available has increased and the cost to our communities and society is mounting yet the numbers of police dedicated to investigating drug crime has fallen," he said.

It was putting the safety of police and the community at greater risk, he said.

"The police in Hawke's Bay tell me that there is a real P epidemic out there and yet with only five staff covering Gisborne, Napier and Hastings, it makes it difficult to fight this on even terms.

"If the Prime Minister and Minister of Police are serious in their efforts to stamp out this scourge, then they need to start walking the walk as opposed to simply reverting to tough words. We need more police on the front line now."

Eastern District commander Sandra Venables said it was incorrect to say that there were only five police officers working on drug offending.

"Eastern District is well aware that methamphetamine and illicit drugs are having a large impact on the local communities in both Hawkes Bay and Tairawhiti," she said.

Just as the issue of drug addiction, drug use and its impact on families is multifaceted, so too was the response, she said.

"The number of dedicated staff to investigate certain aspects of the drug trade is only one tactic used by police. Eastern District has a whole-of-police approach to prevent crime and reduce the harm caused by illicit drug use. There is ongoing work being done with users, families and partner agencies so that support is offered to those who want to change.

"This tactic was very successful with an drug operation recently run in Tairawhiti where offenders were put before the courts, but were also offered support to enable them to treat their addictions. By working alongside Iwi and partner agencies, support was provided to over forty families.

"We continue to hold offenders to account and this is evidenced by the marked increase in the number of offenders apprehended for drug related offences compared to a year ago."

The increase rate of arrests was due to both targeted operations and all police "all day, every day" thanks to strong community support.

Police Minister Judith Collins said Mr Nash was cherry picking statistics and ignoring the context she gave with them.

Other police staff also worked on illegal drug cases though it was their primary role, she said.

"I am also advised that some districts focus their work in different ways to address the same issues, without grouping or labelling teams according to crime type investigations."

- Hawkes Bay Today

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