Anna Leask

Anna Leask is senior police reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

Safety fears as police shut Downtown base

Auckland's top cop pledges more officers on the beat but business owners are worried

Sumo Sushi owner Kiwoon Kewn often closes early to avoid trouble from drunken, abusive people on Fort St. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Sumo Sushi owner Kiwoon Kewn often closes early to avoid trouble from drunken, abusive people on Fort St. Photo / Sarah Ivey

Police plan to close their station in Downtown Auckland, upsetting nearby business owners who say they will feel less safe.

But police chiefs insist the changes won't affect the way staff monitor the area and will allow for better use of resources.

The Fort St station houses the central city's 30 beat cops, the CCTV monitoring system and staff, and two workers who staff the public counter, open from 8am to 4pm on weekdays.

The police plan to sell the building and relocate Downtown officers to the main Auckland Central station on Mayoral Drive.

Beat cops would move to the same office as patrol groups and the CCTV operation would run from a newly established district command centre. The central station is open to the public 24/7.

District commander Superintendent Mike Clement said the recently announced "mobility initiative" - under which all frontline staff are to be equipped with iPhones and iPads - meant police would spend less time in the office and more time out doing their job in the community.

But some business owners are concerned by the plan to shut the Downtown station.

Kiwoon Kewn, of Sumo Sushi on Fort St, said its presence made him feel safer.

"In this area, on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, you get a lot of abuse, drunk people ... fights. It's good having it there."

Mr Kewn often shuts his shop early - sometimes at 3pm - to avoid the behaviour.

He said that while police promised there would be more officers in the street, he believed that would be forgotten. "After two or three months that won't happen."

The duty manager at the Fort St Union bar said the station's closure would be "pretty scary".

"We deal with a lot of drunk people and it's nice to know that it's there, for security reasons."

Kebabs on Queen St manager Shiv Choudhary said: "There are so many fights out on the street. If the police are around, we feel safer."

Mr Clement defended the move, saying with more officers on the beat there was less need for office space, so it made sense to look at what accommodation could be reduced.

He said having all relevant teams based in the same place would allow managers to better deploy staff to the areas they were needed the most - and more quickly. "It will enhance public safety in my view."

Auckland Mayor Len Brown said he had been briefed on the plan and would "monitor the situation closely".

"The police have assured me there will be better deployment of beat cops in the Downtown area and other parts of the city centre as a result."

Heart of the City chief Alex Swney said the police had told his business association "it's less about bricks and mortar and more about employing your existing resources better".

"My understanding is they [officers] are going to be out of the office twice as much now. For us, that is just music to our ears."

- NZ Herald

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