By Ben Strang, RNZ
The government's promise of 1800 new police could suffer delays, and the planned rollout has been impacted because of managed isolation commitments.
The police had wanted to put 160 new staff recruited in the past year into the organised crime unit, but instead they were sent to MIQ facilities after a request for help.
Police told the government that means some regions could miss out on new officers for some time, and other priority areas could also suffer.
As part of the 1800 extra police promise, to be delivered by June 2023, 700 organised crime roles are supposed to be filled.
In documents obtained under the Official Information Act, the Commissioner Andrew Coster was approached by the Acting Deputy Commissioner Angela Brazier about prioritising Serious and Organised Crime roles where possible after the police were approved to bring forward the recruitment of 160 officers in the 2020-21 year.
An assessment was then conducted to look into the options and understand what the impacts and risks of that might be.
"The team conducted this assessment and identified a number of practical considerations that need to be worked though regarding: the nature of the specialist roles and ability to fill these vacancies in a timely manner; these roles being at higher levels of remuneration and allowances, which would add additional cost; physical constraints with locations to house staff within police buildings; advanced training and equipment," the assessment read.
"With the original planning, these issues were being managed across the next three years, and if these allocations are brought forward then it would significantly reduce the time available to develop and implement solutions to mitigate the risks and impacts identified."
While the risk assessment was conducted, the police received a request to send 177 staff to 32 MIQ facilities across the country.
Police said this would take resources away from current demand areas.
"It has been identified that police could use the extra 160 to fund the majority of this new operational pressure for the relevant districts," the report reads.
"By increasing numbers in these districts, this enables these roles to be filled without reducing numbers carrying out business as usual functions in the districts."
Police went with the plan, but told the government it would defer policing issues down the track.
"It is not yet possible to know how long the managed isolation deployments will last for but should they still be required in FY21/22 then using these resources for this function will mean they cannot be used for the planned 1800 allocation functions.
"Therefore, this would mean that other growth priorities will have to be delayed until the managed isolation deployment ends.
"In addition, the managed isolation deployment is highly concentrated in specific locations, growing numbers into these locations will mean that when the deployment ends police will have people in locations that do not fit business as usual requirements.
"This will require a period of time for normal attrition processes to return these numbers to desired levels, which could further delay desired allocation to demand."
Simeon Brown, the National Party's police spokesperson, said the government should have supported the police in wanting to bring forward 160 organised crime roles.
"The government has decided not to give the funding and resource they need to actually bring forward the increase in police tasked with tackling organised crime and gangs," Brown said.
"We've seen gang membership grow by 50 per cent under this government, but there's been an effective delay in actually recruiting officers tasked with actually tackling this problem in New Zealand.
"Instead those officers are tasked with manning our MIQ facilities."
Brown said the pandemic was reason enough for the government to provide extra funding to the police for recruitment to fill the roles needed in MIQ facilities, and enjoy the benefits of that once the pandemic is over.
"The government had a promise of increasing police by 1800 - they've still got more roles to fill," Brown said.
"What they should have done is keep police training college moving, keep recruiting, so they could actually fulfil the 1800 police that they'd promised New Zealanders.
"Yes, Covid has had an impact in terms of redirecting some of those roles to MIQ facilities which is important, but at the same time that's no excuse to shut down police training college and to stop training new officers so that they can have people on the beat keeping New Zealanders safe."
In a statement, Police Minister Poto Williams said she was confident the growth target of 1800 new police by June 2023 would still be met.
But she said the police's plan for fast forwarded organised crime unit roles was never likely.
"In response to claims that police were intending to send 160 roles straight into the organised crime unit - I am advised current policy requires officers to work as a probationary constable for two years following graduation from the RNZPC," Williams said.
"Once they have completed this requirement, they are able to apply to work in specialised areas. As such, they wouldn't be able to be sent straight to the organised crime unit.
Williams said the issue of allocation of staff in regards to the 1800 police promise was an operational matter.
"However, allocation of funding for officers to MIQ was always done to minimise the impact on frontline policing.
"I am advised, police continue to assess the number of staff deployed to MIQ facilities in order to meet operational requirements, and intends a large component of these positions will be reallocated into operational roles in the future."
RNZ asked Williams if the government would consider extra funding for police recruitment if MIQ deployment were to derail some of the 1800 roll out, but the question was not answered.
Williams did say, however: "We are simply not losing police. The police attrition rate has been sitting at around 2.5 per cent. Overall, attrition is low compared to other government agencies."