Isaac Davison is a NZ Herald political reporter.

National kicks off election promises with more police and ambitious burglary target

Prime Minister Bill English's opening salvo in his bid to win National a fourth term is a law-and-order policy which aims to have nearly every burglary in the country attended by police within 48 hours.

His promise to provide 880 extra police officers, 500 of them on the beat, marked an early attempt to tackle a potential weak point for National in election year.

After falling for half a decade, crime rates began rising again in 2014, threatening National's reputation as tough on law and order.

As shown in the Herald's Hitting Home series on burglary last year, public frustration has grown as resolution rates have fallen to a record low 9.3 per cent.

Announcing the $503 million policy in his State of the Nation speech yesterday, English conceded that crime had "picked up" under his Government's watch.

But he refused to accept his opponents' arguments that the sector had been under-funded or that the Government had been slow to respond.

Former Police Minister Judith Collins signalled the need for police as early as June last year. English said yesterday the Government had needed time to put a plan in place for tackling crime.

He also said the crime problem was not the result of underfunding but was instead a symptom of a growing population.

Having achieved its long-sought Budget surplus, National was now prepared to "invest up-front in programmes that will tackle ... complex issues", English said.

The significant investment came with performance goals. Among the new targets for police was attending 98 per cent of burglaries within 48 hours, up from current rates of 86 per cent.

The targets would "not be an easy task", Police Minister Paula Bennett said. "But we're here to tackle the difficult issues."

The Labour Party and New Zealand First have both promised more police officers if they are in power. New Zealand First leader Winston Peters has made it a bottom line in any coalition talks.

Both he and Little yesterday said English's policy was too little, too late.

Peters said it was an "election year stunt" which came after years of National saying the crime rate was falling.

"The public won't be fooled," he said.

Little said English was playing "desperate catch-up" and had to be "dragged kicking and screaming" into increasing police numbers.

"Less than a year ago he was the Finance Minister who signed off on a four-year freeze on police numbers," he said.

Little also said the policy was a "skinny version" of Labour's promise to introduce 1000 more cops within three years. Peters wants 1800 police within five years.

In anticipation of any criticism, English sent a warning about other party's election promises and their costs in election year, saying voters should "look beyond the dollar-figure sound bites".

The package also included measures to make police more available and visible, including a 24-hour phone line for non-emergencies and funding the Eagle police helicopter to run around the clock.

Police Commissioner Mike Bush said some criminals in Auckland had learned that the helicopter stopped operating at 3am, and crime often spiked after this point.

In an unusual move, Bush attended the policy announcement yesterday and supported it in statements to media. He denied overstepping his role as an impartial public servant, saying it was an important issue for his department.

National's crime-fighting package:

● 1125 more police staff
● 245 non-sworn staff
● 880 sworn police officers, including:

— 500 officers will be "on the beat"
— 140 regional and rural officers
— 80 organised crime officers
— 140 specialist officers (domestic violence, sexual violence, children)
— 20 ethnic liaisons

● 24/7 capability for the Eagle helicopter
● 24-hour non-emergency phone line
● 12 mobile policing units for events, rural towns

How do the parties compare?

National

● 1125 more police staff in 4 years, 880 of them sworn officers
● Police staff numbers lifted from 11,925 to 13,000, and cops from 8900 to 9800.
● Cost: $380m over four years

Labour

● 1300 more police staff in first 3 years of office, 1000 of them sworn officers
● Police officer numbers lifted to 10,000 within 3 years
● Cost: Not fully costed, but police budget will be increased by $180m a year

NZ First

● 1800 more police officers over five years
● Cost: Unknown

- NZ Herald

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