NZ First wants police numbers boosted to match Australia on a per capita basis, a move Leader Winston Peters says would pay for itself through reduced crime.

Addressing an elderly audience of about 25 at an Upper Hutt retirement village this morning, Mr Peters said the National Government's spending on police had not kept pace with population growth.

"They went further in the last budget, and actually took $40 million from the police budget." That left gaps in the police presence over some regions including Waikato.

"Police are stretched so thinly the countryside is virtually unpoliced overnight." If in a position to do so after this month's election, NZ First would seek to lift police numbers to achieve parity with Australia in terms of the number of frontline police per thousand of population"That's what we sought to do in 2005 when we got 1000 extra police in the space of three years and we're going to set out to get that target after this election" he told reporters later.

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That meant between 1500 and 1800 extra police,"but it depends what the process of attrition has brought about thus far ... you've got to know what force you've got presently available upon which you can build into the future".

Asked about the cost of the extra police, Mr Peters said it would"save the country in terms of lower insurance premiums down".

"You don't have so much wasted consumption in the economy so it will work in terms of saving money rather than costing it."

During his speech he also criticised National for focusing on"fudging crime statistics" rather than tackling crime itself.

"Remember they were caught out fiddling the books in South Auckland."

He said the "latest trick" was to encourage police to issue warnings instead of charging those they apprehend.

"No arrests. No convictions. The result is lower crime figures."

NZ First would push for an independent audit of crime statistics"to get to the truth" he said.

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