OPINION: Paihia is not as well known as its next-door neighbour just over the bridge, Waitangi, but it is still, from my experience of visiting, a very pleasant town. However, the locals are frustrated because they no longer have a permanent regular police force in the town.
There are only 1500 full-time residents there, and therefore you can perhaps understand why it’s a luxury to have a sergeant and three constables, as they did up till about three years ago. Nowadays the town’s policing is done out of Kerikeri which is 25 kilometres away, and Kaikohe which is a 35 kilometre drive. But Megan Pollock, who organised a town meeting to address the policing shortage, said Paihia now has no buses, no trains, roads in poor condition, no banks, and no police.
Now the story about the meeting had no statistics about increased crime. All it did was talk about a perceived surge in crime which may or may not have been brought about by changes to the town’s population because tourist accommodation is being used as emergency housing for people from out of Paihia. But it begs the question, not just in Paihia but all over the country, are we being policed as well as we should be?
Sadly there are too many stories about the service we get from the police. Less than two weeks ago there was news that some police are refusing to go to high-risk callouts because of the danger of being shot.
Even police hierarchy admit there’s a problem and as a consequence frontline staff are being sent to the police college at Porirua for an extra week's training in what’s called Frontline Skills Enhancement. But the reason frontline cops can go to Porirua is that the training of police recruits has stopped, for now. Isn’t that extraordinary? There was an intake scheduled to start in February but that didn’t happen so the next intake will be in May.
Police numbers are always a hot political topic but the reality is that in the last ten years the number of police officers per head of population has increased, and increased significantly. Back in 2011, we had a population of just under 4.4 million and according to the police annual report, there were 7,294 sworn as of June 30 that year. That works out at one police officer per 601 people.
The latest figures I can find say we have a population of 5.1 million now, and 9,838 sworn police officers, which is a massive increase of 34 percent in the last ten years and a ratio of one police officer for every 519 citizens, quite an increase from one for every 600.
So if we have more police officers than ever before, how come the small towns like Paihia don’t have the frontline staff working in their actual community but cover the town as part of a wider region which is called the Mid-North? But is this centralising of the police force in the regions a common practice? Are other places like Paihia also now without a resident cop?
And what about policing in general? Those numbers say we have more cops than ever before but are you getting the service you think you deserve? Are cops responding as quickly as you think they should be to your concerns? And what do you make of reports that sometimes police officers won’t go to an incident because they believe it's too dangerous? Are those reports actually true or is it just anecdotal?
But isn’t the most disturbing part of the situation the fact that as we speak police training is on hold? As I understand it, there are no frontline officers being trained at the moment so that means somewhere between 40 and 80 new sworn officers won’t be out working the streets after they would have graduated next month.
Yes, we have more police officers per capita than 10 years ago but I think we all know we have a different world of crime compared to a decade ago as well. Well, there are more gang members for a start.