Claire Trevett on politics

Claire Trevett is a Herald political writer

Claire Trevett: The trials and tribulations of a sole charge cop

14 comments
Beaten Police officer Graham Gough at the Media conference at Mangawhai 2004. Photo / Michael Cunningham
Beaten Police officer Graham Gough at the Media conference at Mangawhai 2004. Photo / Michael Cunningham

Anybody interested in the realities of being a sole-charge police officer should visit the Facebook page of Houhora's Senior Constable Tracee Knowler.

The page came to international attention after a Christmas Day post in which Knowler sought help to identify a beer thief.

"This time I'm looking for a very large 'chippie's crack'," Knowler wrote, complete with a security camera photo of said crack.

Other highlights included the mysterious disappearance of several kilograms of garlic lying out to dry, a stolen oyster barge, and the woman doing the Houhora version of Kate Winslet in Titanic - on the bullbar of a Hilux rather than the prow of a ship.

There were the lost and founds. The lost items included a 30-year-old fishing rod a local woman left at the wharf after she got carried away talking to her friends.

In the "found" category were some cannabis plants Knowler found while strolling in the bush. She ripped them out and left her business card as an early Valentine tied to one of the wire cages around the plants.

"Yours to claim if you can tell me where I found them and identify the plants!" she added enticingly.

There were many responses to her posts, which included criticism of the quality of the cannabis plants she had found, and, in reply to a warning about a new breathalyser, some good-natured advice to the good people of Houhora: "Take heed of the warning: don't want to see your ugly face plastered all over Facebook."

As well as the usual missing people, rescues and car accidents, the posts give a glimpse into the life of a sole-charge officer, and the closer relationship a local bobby has with the people within a small community compared with their big city counterparts.

Further down country, there was a different side of that reality when Kawhia's constable, Perry Griffin, was beaten by up to five people this week. Backup was provided by locals and the volunteer fire service as police were summoned from other areas.

Much of the noise has come from Labour - its police spokesman, Kris Faafoi, restated the party's 2012 policy to ensure there were at least two officers in all police stations.

It does not seem that much to ask - there are fewer than 70 sole-charge stations in New Zealand and both Labour and now National have made much of boosting police numbers.

So far, Police Minister Anne Tolley has brushed Faafoi off for making cheap political points. Instead she fobbed that decision off onto the police, saying it was up to them to decide where their manpower should be based.

The usual excuses have been trotted out - that such attacks were rare, that it was the reality of rural policing, that a second officer nearby might not have made any difference in preventing the attack.

Police Commissioner Peter Marshall pointed out that there are still cases of assault on officers who do have company - in fact, there are more assaults on police officers in the main centres than in rural areas.

Faafoi's argument is that having a second officer would at least provide more readily available backup rather than relying on members of the public to walk into a dangerous situation themselves.

Tolley's response is a cop-out, but she has a point on the political point-scoring bit. Successive governments have been confronted with the same problem but have baulked at bolstering one-person stations. There were 64 sole-charge stations in 2006 - and there are now 66.

Labour itself faced the same problem back in 2004 after Mangawhai's sole charge policeman, Graham Gough, was bashed over the head during a confrontation with someone he knew and had not expected problems from.

Yet it was not until 2012 that ending sole-charge stations became specific Labour policy.

As for National, it has set itself the goal of reducing crime by 15 per cent before 2017.

The risk is that a tunnel-vision focus on that goal will come at the expense of other things - such as greater safety for rural police - because extra resources go instead to the more crime-intensive urban areas in a bid to hasten progress.

Labour has already criticised National for doling out the 600 extra officers it claims to have delivered to areas such as Counties Manukau at the expense of the provinces.

Its hard line on law and order is one of National's strongest suits - and it needs all the political capital it can get as it heads into the 2014 election.

Failing to come near that goal would not be a good look. Then again, neither is a beaten-up police officer.

Gough made it clear - as Knowler does - what the appeal of small town policing was. "I enjoy being a person and not just a uniform or number."

Griffin was carrying pepper spray, a Taser and a Glock, yet was still attacked. At the time of the attack on Gough, police were routinely armed with pepper spray and batons. Gough said afterwards the most important items in his arsenal were "my instincts, my skills and my training".

Since then all manner of things have been introduced to try to counter the increased dangers of policing today - Tasers, stab-proof vests, easier access to firearms, and tougher penalties for those who assault police.

Everything but a second pair of hands.

- NZ Herald

Have your say

We aim to have healthy debate. But we won't publish comments that abuse others. View commenting guidelines.

1200 characters left

Sort by
  • Oldest

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_a1 at 20 Aug 2014 17:15:26 Processing Time: 696ms