The number of assaults on New Zealand’s police officers has almost doubled amid a climate of rising violent crime rates, a spike in ram raids and the Covid protests on Parliament’s lawn.
Newstalk ZB can reveal officers reported more than 1000 attacks during 2022, up from 631 the year before, with Prime Minister Chris Hipkins saying any violence towards police is “unacceptable.”
One officer with years of experience on the frontline, speaking on the condition of anonymity, talked about the confronting reality of the job.
“I’ve been shot, stabbed, beaten, kicked ... you name it, they’ve done it to me,” they said. “Those stats are terrifying, that’s horrific.”
The Police Association’s top brass warns the real numbers of assaults are likely much higher, and staff could be tempted by jobs overseas where officers are armed.
“Police are seen as fair game and assaulted on a daily basis. It’s a disgrace,” vice-president Paul Ormerod said.
The Government maintains it “takes the safety of frontline officers seriously”, heralding its nationwide rollout of the police tactical response model to train and equip staff.
But the National Party and Act said the figures are ”atrocious” and reflect what they claim is a “general lawlessness in the community”.
Assaults on police are reported either by offence charges brought against alleged offenders, or staff reporting harm.
Answers to written parliamentary questions by Act show that between October 2017 to March 2023, 11,300 offences related to an assault on police.
Meanwhile, 1121 assaults were reported by staff in the 2022 calendar year, with 32 ending up in hospital – covering the period in which protesters unlawfully occupied Parliament’s lawn.
That’s compared to 631 reported assaults in 2021, and 577 in 2020.
Incidents reported by staff are categorised as assault if a person has hit, struck, bitten or spat at an officer, or if a vehicle, object or substance has been projected towards them.
The officer spoken to anonymously by Newstalk ZB believes a “lack of consequence” is the biggest issue, and said many officers “brush off a spitting, gouging or punch”.
“Because of the paperwork involved, health and safety, near-miss s**t - do you charge someone with that? No. The courts won’t do anything,” they claim.
“In terms of using vehicles or firearms towards police - it’s exacerbated ten-fold.”
Deputy Police Commissioner Tania Kura said the rise in assaults on police “aligns with the growth of the organisation, including additional frontline staff”.
“Increasingly, they [frontline officers] face threats from those willing to use greater levels of violence. It is the nature of our job that we are often dealing with people who are stressed, distressed, affected by alcohol or drugs”, Kura said.
“We note a particular spike in 2022 which can be attributed in part to the policing of the Parliament occupation,” she added.
Police Minister Ginny Andersen said: “officers put themselves in harm’s way every day” to protect communities.
“That’s why this year we announced an investment in the nationwide rollout of the Tactical Response Model (TRM), which is a safety system designed to ensure the frontline is trained, equipped and supported to keep themselves and communities safer,” she said.
Asked whether police officers are becoming more at risk of assaults on the job, Hipkins said they shouldn’t have to “put up with” any of it.
”Police do a really difficult job. Any violence towards [them] is unacceptable,” he said.
“We don’t, as a Government, make decisions about who to charge or who to prosecute, but where the police do that, of course, they have our full support.”
Ormerod said there’s “a lot more going on” than the incidents that are being reported.
“We can’t continue to ignore the dangerous environment officers work in. It’s a sad reflection on society,” he said.
“Police officers don’t go to work with the expectation they’re going to be assaulted.”
Act police spokesperson Chris Baillie agreed and said the numbers show “a decline in respect”, while National Party counterpart Mark Mitchell claimed “the Government’s been warned for the past five years about its lack of focus on public safety”.
MPs on Parliament’s Justice select committee were this year told by the Independent Police Conduct Authority that the policing environment had changed dramatically, and the “major front-of-mind issue” for officers was getting home safely to their families at night.