Morgan Tait is the NZ Herald's police reporter.

Police patrols cut in last 12 months — OIA figures

Figures released to the Labour Party under the Official Information Act equate to 86 fewer police foot patrols  in the year to June compared to the previous year. Photo / File
Figures released to the Labour Party under the Official Information Act equate to 86 fewer police foot patrols in the year to June compared to the previous year. Photo / File

Police did 4472 fewer foot patrols in the year to June than in the previous year, fuelling claims that police resources are too stretched to control crime.

The figures, released under the Official Information Act to the Labour Party, equate to 3 per cent fewer foot patrols - 86 fewer a week - in the year to June 30, compared to the year to June 30, 2015.

In the three Auckland police districts combined, 2645 fewer patrols occurred during that period, a 5 per cent drop.

Labour Leader Andrew Little told the Herald the figures were yet another example of police being under resourced and ill-equipped to manage a growing population, putting more people in danger.

He compared the numbers to increases in assaults, robberies and burglaries that jumped by up to 53 per cent in some parts of the country in the same period.

Nationwide there was a 3.1 per cent rise in crime, made up of 6.5 per cent more assaults, 13 per cent more burglaries and 12 per cent more robberies.

The biggest increases were seen when the figures were broken down to police regional and stations level, with a 32 per cent increase in serious assaults in Auckland Central and 53 per cent more robberies in the Canterbury Metro Area.

"This shows as we have suspected that police resources are being stretched too thin," Little said. "We have a growing population and we have a freeze on police numbers."

Police data showed there was one officer per 503 Kiwis in the year to June 30, down from one per 488 in 2009.

"More people are in danger," said Little. "It's a common sense thing that as the population grows we still need to maintain a police presence."

Little said other types of patrolling, including by car and technology, were not as effective as interacting with officers on the street.

"An iPad isn't going to stop a robbery or mean a faster response to a robbery. Seeing a police officer walking down a street offers a much greater sense of security than just driving by in a car. We simply just need more bodies on the ground."

Viv Beck, chief executive of Auckland City's business association, Heart of the City, said the new figures confirmed what they had been seeing in the central city.

"It's quite shocking, that's a significant decline in a growing city. It appeared that patrols had declined anecdotally, but seeing these figures shows the extent of that decline."

"More people are in danger. It's a common sense thing that as the population grows we still need to maintain a police presence."
Labour Leader Andrew Little

Beck had been calling for an increased police presence in the central city for months.

"Police play a crucial role in creating a safe environment and we would rather see resources in advance than the sirens in response to crimes.

"We are a growing city and with the crime stats we have seen it's particularly important that we don't see any more increases."

Criminologist Jarrod Gilbert said the figures seemed to contradict police's aims to move to a community-based policing model.

"Foot patrols are important because the police are moving towards a community policing/prevention approach. If you're engaging in that type of policing, what you need is the public on-side, and you need to build good relationships in the community."

However, he said the organisation simply did not have enough resources to do everything.

"When police resources are stretched then something has to give and resources have to move around. One of the greatest things you can do to make communities safer is to have more police."

Declining police resources, rising crime rates and falling resolution rates have been highly charged subjects this year, and Little is expected to make an announcement about Labour's police policy when he speaks at the Police Association's AGM on Thursday afternoon.

A police spokeswoman said staff had to ensure prevention work was based on quality initiatives and activities that were the most effective for keeping communities safe.

"We want our people to be in the right place, at the right time doing the right thing. This means that foot patrols may have reduced in favour of other activities such as mobile patrols, road policing, static patrols and liquor licence checks.

Police Minister Judith Collins said the decrease in foot patrols was small and not a reliable measure of police performance.

"Looking at foot patrols in isolation is not an appropriate measure of deterring or preventing criminal offending," she said

It was up to police districts to "prioritise their resources and deploy them to where they are needed most".

Prime Minister John Key has announced plans for more police, but Collins would not be drawn on when that occur of the details of those changes.

Robbery victim wants more patrols

Jeff Wu's chain of Auckland liquor stores have been plagued by violent robberies. He has had staff hospitalised, thousands of dollars of property stolen and even more damaged.

Wu believes having more police patrolling the streets could have prevented these - or at least helped.

"More police patrols would certainly help. More police would stop the criminals, for a while at least."

In August, his Legends Liquor store on Duke St, Three Kings, was raided by teens who violently assaulted two of his staff. It was the third time the store was robbed in as many weeks.

Combined with his other stores in Mangere and Flat Bush - the three were robbed six times in the preceding month.

"At the moment we have got nothing and we can't do anything to help ourselves. I don't want to give my staff weapons. There is nothing we can do to stop these happening, so anything to make the community a bit safer [would be good].

"We need to get to the bottom of it."

While Wu agreed that more patrols would help, he said other options needed to be looked at, too - including poverty and education young offenders.

- NZ Herald

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