Victims want real police not stand-ins

By Mathew Dearnaley, NZPA

Victims of high-profile police communications failures are unimpressed by a call on community patrols to scout potential emergencies before the police can get to them.

An organisation called Community Patrols of New Zealand, with 72 affiliates nationwide, says it is not unusual for its members to be asked for help in reporting on domestic disputes or other flare-ups before police can reach remote areas.

"In rural areas not every area has 24-hour police, and a lot of people make 111 calls for domestic situations and all sorts of situations," said the organisation's chairman, Neil Sole.

"The comms [police communications] more than likely have dispatched a police car, but it's 30 or 40 minutes away.

"We are Johnny on the spot, and they would more than likely ask us to do a drive-past just to see if the situation is as serious as reported or has it escalated."

Mr Sole said community patrols, which had a memorandum of understanding with police, had a strictly observational role and were not meant to get embroiled in any confrontation.

He denied that police were asking the patrols to do their job for them.

"Definitely not - CPNZ are community-based organisations and it's the community taking a wee bit of responsibility of their own. They are the eyes and ears only for the New Zealand police."

But Peter Bentley, a Bay of Plenty farmer whose skull was broken last year in a home invasion to which it took police an hour to respond, said community patrols were no substitute for a professional force.

"The crux is that our existing system has become so undermanned and therefore unreliable," he said last night.

Although he admired any attempt by community groups to fill gaps left by inadequate police resources, their members might be tempted to step into a dispute that could fast spiral out of control.

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