Morgan Tait is the NZ Herald's police reporter.

Specialist crime investigation roles reduced

Superintendent Sandra Venables says police are balancing solving burglaries with other crimes such as child abuse, family and serious violence.   Photo / Warren Buckland
Superintendent Sandra Venables says police are balancing solving burglaries with other crimes such as child abuse, family and serious violence. Photo / Warren Buckland

Concerns were raised within the New Zealand Police about staffing changes that have taken specialist officers away from crime investigations, documents leaked to the Herald show.

Officers in the Eastern Police District raised serious concerns about the impact of removing Scene of Crime Officer (Soco) positions, according to the documents.

The draft papers are draft submissions to an official consultation process in September, and come after the Herald revealed more than 90 per cent of the country's burglaries went unsolved last year.

While the reported number of the crimes has steadily declined in recent years, so did the rate at which they were solved - falling to 9.3 per cent last year.

Socos are specialist trained investigators who gather evidence - including forensics - from crime scenes, and play a crucial role in solving crimes like burglaries.

They work with the less specialised Tactical Crime and Investigation Support units.

The lengthy submissions given to the Herald raised issues from officers in Hawkes Bay and Gisborne where one Soco position from each region will be disestablished, reducing manpower in the teams by a fifth and a third, respectively.

Eastern District commander, Superintendent Sandra Venables, said the roles were "reallocated" after a two-year review. The changes will come into force on Monday.

Stuart Nash believes police resources are being stretched thinner. Photo / Paul Taylor
Stuart Nash believes police resources are being stretched thinner. Photo / Paul Taylor

The papers said that Socos played a crucial role in resolving and reducing crime. Removing the staff was "short-sighted" and "destabilised" investigations, and would increase costs as other staff had to receive extra training and extend their workloads.

"It would probably hinder the service currently offered due to the fact that the same quality coverage cannot be maintained across the area on a daily basis.

"Jobs could not be attended to in the same (or better) time frames than at present."

Ms Venables said Socos performed an important role, "But while resolving these crimes are still very much a priority for police, we need to balance this against the need to prevent and respond to other serious crime - such as child abuse, family and serious violence."

Police Association vice-president and Senior Sergeant at Hawkes Bay Police, Luke Shadbolt, said it was too early to tell what the outcome of the changes would be, but it was another example of stretching frozen police resources thinner.

"Resources are stretched and have been operating on a frozen budget and no increases for a number of years ... that has an impact. Staff are under pressure to meet demands."

Soco resources would now be allocated to the TCU and ISU teams, he said.

"It's a case of trying to get more bang for your buck ... but it will be a case of wait and see if [crime statistics] improve as a result."

Labour's police spokesman, Stuart Nash, said it was further evidence police needed more resources, and of unrest among police staff.

"When police themselves are concerned about their resources, that's when I get concerned. It seems to me that the hierarchy have asked their staff for submissions just so they can say they have gone through the motions, it's a box-ticking exercise."

He said officers told him resources and operational focus needed to be directed to solving crimes instead of stretching resources thinner.

In the 2015/16 budget, $1.1 million was cut from the police investigation budget and $5.9 million underspent in seven police districts that Mr Nash said could have gone towards cracking the 59,845 burglaries unsolved last year.

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW

© Copyright 2017, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf04 at 27 May 2017 07:47:44 Processing Time: 610ms