Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor.

Big boost for police in PM's first major speech of the year as English aims to 'address dysfunction'

National MP Paula Bennett arrives with PM Bill English for the party's state-of-the-nation speech at the Stamford Plaza today. Photo / Dean Purcell
National MP Paula Bennett arrives with PM Bill English for the party's state-of-the-nation speech at the Stamford Plaza today. Photo / Dean Purcell

Bill English has announced a $503 million crime-fighting package including a boost to police numbers in his first major speech of the year as Prime Minister.

Police will get 1125 extra staff over four years, including 880 extra sworn police officers.

"Evidence tells us that if we want to reduce offending we need to address the underlying drivers of dysfunction rather than just respond to all the symptoms," he told the Auckland Rotary at Auckland's Stamford Plaza Hotel.

The package showed that the Government was prepared to invest up-front in programmes that delivered results.

But Labour leader Andrew Little, who has also promised more police if in power, said English was playing "desperate catch-up" and had to be "dragged kicking and screaming" into increasing police numbers.

"We recognised there was a crime problem last October which is why we promised 1000 sworn police officers," he said.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters dismissed the policy as "an election year stunt".

""Bill English will be remembered as the Finance Minister who froze police budgets," he said.

"But, miraculously, in his first major speech as PM, and in election year, Mr English turns around and opens his purse for more frontline police, though not enough."

Police Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Paula Bennett attended the State of the Nation meeting as well.

English said the package would increase total police staff numbers to more than 13,000 from 11,925 by June 2021, and total sworn police numbers to nearly 9800 from about 8900.

English said the new measures were about "doing things smarter".

"Last year I visited Palmerston North and was told about a family that police had visited 87 times for family violence callouts in the previous year.

"Eighty-seven!"

"So rather than continue to visit the house every couple of days, social service agencies, working with police, got together and identified one aunty the father would listen to. They worked with her to support the family.

"The following year, those 87 callouts dropped to only one.

"That's what I mean about doing things smarter.

"We are unashamedly targeting offenders to ensure they are off our streets by providing additional resources for police to resolve more crime, and target criminal gangs and organised crime."

He said the Government was also providing additional resources to address the underlying drivers of crime through preventative work by the police and greater investment in rehabilitation for prisoners.

"This large investment is possible only because of New Zealanders' hard work to build a strong economy, backed by the Government's plan to create economic opportunities and get our books back in order.

"While the increase in police numbers is important, what really matters is ensuring it delivers better results for the community."

The package will include:

A 24-hour phone number for non-emergencies.

Assigning 140 more officers for up to 20 regional and rural police stations, which means 95 per cent of the population lives within 25 km of a 24/7 police presence.

140 additional specialist investigators for child protection, sexual assault, family violence and other serious crime - although 66 have been previously announced in last year's family violence package.

80 additional officers to target organised crime, gangs and methamphetamine.

20 additional ethnic liaison officers for Chinese, Indian and other communities.

Extending the availability of the Eagle helicopter to around the clock with the response time of 10-15 minutes - at present it is available at prescheduled times for only 1800 hours a year.

12 mobile policing units to respond to need including small towns, rural areas and community events.

English said Government agencies were using the social investment approach to better understand the people who most needed intervention and identify what helped them to lead better lives.

"Preventing crime often requires intervention from education or housing agencies rather than just the police."

The most common age of an apprehended burglar last year was 16 years old, he said.

"We need to push harder to keep every young person on a track that avoids first offending and prevents them moving on to even more serious crime."

But the police frontline needed more time to dedicate additional resources to crime prevention.

Although recorded crime had fallen since 2009, overall demand for police time had grown and recorded crime had begun to rise again over the past two years - particularly burglaries, robberies and assaults.

English also revealed more about his upbringing and how it has shaped his political outlook.

"As some of you know, I was brought up in Southland, a place where hard work and farm skills were respected more than profit, and where no one could do it all on their own," he said.

"I got my politics around our large dining table growing up, and from my mother who ran a farm, raised 12 children and was a serial community activist.

"By the early 1980s, I was a new, keen and highly indebted young farmer. Interest rates were around 17 per cent, but farm costs were held down by wage and price freezes.

"That wasn't sustainable and just papered over the economic problems that had built up over a number of years.

"The economy had to be restructured. My community was hit hard as farm subsidies were wiped.

"I made lots of financial and farm management mistakes. But with the help of family and a lot of hard work, we stayed on our feet.

"Many New Zealand families had similar experiences in other industries, as jobs were lost and they struggled to rethink where they fitted in a country that had suddenly changed.

"We thought the world owed us a living. It didn't.

"I learned then that business and families in a small trading country like ours needs to continuously adapt in small steps - and that Government should back Kiwis to do just that, focusing on resilience and aspiration rather than fear and isolation."

"As a new MP in 1990, I saw the deep-seated resilience of our rural families and communities as they rebuilt their skills and their confidence.

"I saw the same qualities in the big city when I married into a Samoan Italian family.

"I must admit the scruffy unemployed farm worker who turned up on the arm of their eldest daughter wasn't quite what Mary's parents had in mind as a son-in-law - but I think that has come right in the past couple of months.

"From them I saw the grit and determination it takes to feed and educate a large family, own a home and win respect when starting afresh in a new country.

"Mary and I have raised six children of our own.

"Along with the hundreds of families we've met through school, church, relatives and dozens of sports teams, we've shared the experience of working multiple jobs, getting everyone everywhere on time, finding time to spend with the children and each other - and for enough sleep - as well as answering the hardest question of all every day: what's for dinner and who is cooking it?

"The people who shaped my life are resilient and capable."

Police Commissioner Mike Bush welcomed the policy today, saying it would increase his workforce by almost 10 per cent over four years.

"The Prime Minister's announcement includes putting an extra 880 new Police officers into frontline roles including response, organised crime, gangs and methamphetamine, child protection, family violence and in rural and ethnically diverse communities," he said in a statement.

Bush said that while overall crime was lower than five years ago, there was an increased demand for police resources in these areas.

"The addition of these new staff means we can deliver more to support victims, prevent crime and hold offenders to account."

In an unusual move, Bush attended the State of the Nation speech and appeared at a press conference after English and Deputy Prime Minister Bennett.

English denied that he was politicising the police by having Bush appear alongside him at the event.

- NZ Herald

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