Police have put the brakes on training new officers, despite a rise in gun violence and gang activity.
The delay has left hundreds of recruits in limbo and means the Government is still well short of its promise last term to put an extra 1800 cops on the streets by last year.
Candidates of an upcoming training wing were initially scheduled to attend the Royal New Zealand Police College in February.
But they were told in a document obtained by the Herald on Sunday that their training would be deferred until later in 2021 after recruitment requirements were reconsidered.
The decision will mean a six-month drought of new cops hitting the streets between March and September.
A wing of 60 recruits is set to be deployed in March at the end of the last scheduled four-month training.
Police say the earliest next intake for training is scheduled to start in May, so no new officers will be available for work until September.
Police halted recruitment in June last year, because of an increase in applications during the Covid-19 lockdown, but assured those already in the pipeline that their training would continue.
In a statement, executive director of people and operations Kaye Ryan said attrition rates as low as 2 per cent meant there was now "less of a need for police recruits," despite police falling more than 400 short of the 2017 Government Coalition Agreement goal of adding 1800 new police officers above attrition over three years.
Ryan said the growth target was always funded over a five-year period.
But Police Association spokesperson Chris Cahill said he believed police had to stop training because they had got ahead of their five-year budget. He urged that the money be brought forward so training could restart immediately.
"Labour are actually budgeting this over five years from June 2018 to June 2023 and we think that's crazy because they said if it could be done, they would do it in three years," he told the Herald on Sunday.
"New cops are needed now more than ever. We've got over 200 police staff working in the managed isolation facilities so that's 200 staff not out on the street. Why would you not get the recruits through while you've got people wanting to join and police have the capacity to train?
"Our members are telling us they've seen some real gains with the extra numbers which came through, it had a real effect on morale in the police and their ability to do the job. By cancelling wings, we risk losing all those gains."
Last month, Auckland Mayor Phil Goff called on police to boost the number of frontline officers to crack down on drug trafficking and organised crime as the city wrestles with spiralling gun violence.
Gang membership is also on the rise nationwide. At least 900 people reportedly joined a gang in 2020, an increase of 13 per cent on the year before, according to police figures.
National's police spokesman Simeon Brown said the postponement of training in light of this reflected a "lack of commitment" from the Government to its "goals in law and order in keeping New Zealanders safe".
"What's happened is failure in the Government not achieving their promise and kicking the can down the road," Brown said.
"It's time we take this seriously and actually ensure we have the police resources to match.
"The public are waking up to the fact that crime is on the rise, particularly organised criminal activity, and they need the police to be as effective and as well-resourced as possible."
Cahill added his concern that the May intake would mean just 40 recruits were trained and would only go ahead if attrition rates increased.
He feared the extended delay would risk them losing candidates with great potential in the police force.
A police candidate, who asked to remain anonymous, agreed the process had been "disheartening".
"There's been a major lack in communication to recruits and I feel a sense of neglect," they told the Herald on Sunday.
"It's saddening to have met all the requirements from my end, through what's been a lengthy and costly process, only to be told that they don't know for sure when we'll be sent.
"Recruitment seem very misinformed and very much touch-and-go. It's difficult to make life decisions when sitting in limbo."
The Herald on Sunday asked Police Minister Poto Williams why the Government was not advancing money from the five-year budget to train more officers now.
A duty spokesman said the Government had nothing to add to the police response.