Labour has pledged to put 1000 extra police officers on the beat in its first term to reverse a "surge" in crime, in new policy unveiled by leader Andrew Little today.
The Police Association says the ball is now in the Government's court.
"It is a hell of a good start...we will certainly be interested to see how [the Government] respond," new Police Association president Chris Cahill said.
In a speech to the association's annual conference, Little said the policy would increase the total number of police officers to 10,000.
"The thin blue line is reaching breaking point. Our police are valiant and hardworking but they are over-stretched and under-resourced," Little told the conference in Wellington.
"There is a cost to not being able to protect innocent citizens and uphold our laws. We can't afford 5000 unsolved sexual assaults a year. We can't afford 600 thefts, burglaries and robberies every day."
Labour said its policy once fully implemented would cost $180 million extra a year. That would include money for about 300 extra support staff, training and equipment and any necessary new stations or renovations.
Investigations into assaults including those of a sexual nature, burglaries and robberies would be prioritised using the new officer numbers.
Little said the ratio of police officers to population had worsened from 1 officer to every 488 New Zealanders in 2008, to 1 to 528 today.
That had contributed to a rising crime rate.
"Burglaries are up 32 per cent since August 2014 - that's an extra 50 burglaries each day. Assaults are up 8 per cent, thefts up 3 per cent, while robberies are up a staggering 66 per cent."
Finance Minister Bill English today announced a bigger surplus than expected - the operating balance before gains and losses (obegal) was a surplus of $1.83 billion in the 12 months ended June 30.
After his speech, Little told media the country could afford Labour's policy.
"The statements today say that the books are looking healthier, and the Government has already started talking about $3 billion worth of tax cuts.
"The choice next year is going to be whether we want to use the Government funds to invest in those things that are going to make communities safer, provide opportunity, or whether we are going to fund National's tax cuts."
We are stretched to breaking point. There are officers out there working 10 hour shifts, not getting a meal break, just going from job to job. There are investigators snowed under with serious crime files.
Little's speech received a somewhat muted response from Police Association delegates in attendance.
"They have had at least a couple days of conference," he said. "A big night last night, it's late in the afternoon. I detected actually a pretty good response."
Labour's policy meets the expectations of Cahill, who was voted in as Police Association president to take over from Greg O'Connor, and said this morning at least 1000 new officers were needed.
"We are stretched to breaking point. There are officers out there working 10 hour shifts, not getting a meal break, just going from job to job. There are investigators snowed under with serious crime files," Cahill told media after the announcement.
Opposition parties have been attacking the Government's record on law and order as crime rates rise along with concerns about burglary and other crime resolution rates.
O'Connor used his last speech at the conference to slam the Government over a lack of police resourcing, and called for an urgent increase in officer numbers. The country was facing a "second wave" of the methamphetamine problem, he said, with gang numbers swelling, particularly those of the Head Hunters.
New Zealand First leader Winston Peters has said a sizeable increase in police numbers will be a bottom line for his party in any post-election negotiations.
Today, he said he wanted 1800 new police officers rolled out over five years, to allow for training.
Peters will address the Police Association conference tomorrow morning and said he would reveal his own party's policy.
Prime Minister John Key has indicated police numbers will increase, after lobbying from Collins. An announcement is expected soon.
Collins has said the Government had not kept up with its own "modest" goal of one police officer for every 500 people. There is about one officer to every 526 people because of population increases.
Asked earlier today about Labour's impending announcement, she said, "we'll see who gazumps whom, shall we".
"I have been working with Bill English and the Prime Minister for months on this, you know that it is being very carefully thought out. And it's not on the back of an envelope or a rush job for a Police Association conference."
Labour's police policy
• Fund 1000 extra police officers over its first term in Government.
• Costs that at an extra $180 million a year once fully implemented, including salaries and money for extra support staff, training and equipment.