No respect for ‘boys in blue’
Assaults on police are getting more serious, more drivers are failing to pull over for police, and offending in the general population is up. Have Kiwis lost respect for the men and women on the beat? Ged Cann reports.
In the last 31⁄2 years there have been more than 6000 recorded assaults on police. However, because the most serious assaults are charged as a different offence without a record of occupation, the true figure may be higher.
Nearly 1000 of those recorded as involving police resulted in injury, and 244 involved a firearm or other weapon.
Police Association president Chris Cahill believes a falling respect for the force is to blame – an issue fanned by stagnant police numbers to deal with a rising population.
‘‘In the past you wouldn’t swear at police officers and you wouldn’t abuse them. This is going back a few years obviously and if that kind of respect erodes away then other things become more fair game.
‘‘You have the issue also that a lot of the offenders we are dealing with now are fuelled up on meth ... without doubt the assaults on police, and the most serious assaults, are meth fuelled.’’
Massey University’s Illicit Drug Monitoring System (IDMS), released in early May, showed methamphetamine had become cheaper and much easier to get in recent years.
Figures suggest total attacks on police had dropped 10 per cent from 1998-2017, but serious assaults have increased by 244 per cent, Cahill says. ‘‘There will be an element of that 244 per cent that may actually be a change in charging, with police more inclined to charge with more serious assaults than they once did ... that doesn’t change the trend.’’
Offending per head of population has gone up, Cahill says, with police figures suggesting the total crime rate per 10,000 population rose by roughly 6 per cent to 865 between the 2014-15 financial year and 2016-17, and violent crime was up 14 per cent to 112.
This result was seemingly at odds with total crime victimisation, which was down 1 per cent in 2017 compared with the year before.
‘‘There just simply aren’t enough 24/7 frontline police officers out there, and without a doubt seeing a police officer on the street, or knowing one is going to turn up quickly when something happens, is a big disincentive to commit crime.
‘‘It also helps people being apprehended for crimes they have committed before they can go on and commit more crimes.’’
Assault on a police officer carries a maximum jail sentence of three years.
Assault with reckless disregard is five years, and intent to cause grievous bodily harm is 10 years – neither of these offences record that it was committed against an officer.
‘‘So you’re more likely if it’s a serious offence to charge them with just the injury with intent rather than assault of police,’’ Cahill says.
Failure to stop for the cops Ministry of Justice figures show the number of people jailed for failing to stop for police jumped from 17 to 79 between 2012 and 2017, and 500 more people were convicted of failing to stop last year than five years earlier.
Cahill says that reflects a general increase in people ‘‘trying it on’’.
‘‘Without a doubt the big increase in pursuits is driven by youths ... and the view you can get away with it. Youth crime rate has gone up 11.6 per cent over the last three years.’’
Police figures show 12 fatal pursuits in 2017 – in the previous five years there were between two and five fatal pursuits annually.
As recently as last week a driver apparently fleeing police died when the car they were driving struck a power pole in New Plymouth.
Cahill says there is new emphasis on charging for failure to stop. ‘‘Rather than treating failure to stop as a secondary offence to the other offending, and withdrawing it for a guilty plea, they will go ahead with that prosecution, given that everyone now understands how dangerous fleeing drivers are.’’
A stagnant force
Police figures show sworn officer numbers have remained largely stagnant from 2009-16, with roughly 9000 in the force. In the same period the population rose by 400,000.
In 2017, the previous government pledged an extra 880 sworn and 245 non-sworn staff over four years, including an increase of 220 staff over the
2017-18 financial year.
The Labour-NZ First coalition agreement states an intention to strive towards increasing police numbers by 1800.
Police Minister Stuart Nash says that, according to the police citizen satisfaction survey, 77 per cent of the public has high or very high trust and confidence in police, a figure stable since
‘‘We still need to keep improving if police are going to achieve their ambitious organisational target of 90 per cent trust and confidence and citizen satisfaction by 2021.
‘‘The vast majority of New Zealanders have huge respect for the police and good work is under way to address areas that
require improvement,’’ he says.
On the stagnant police numbers Nash points to figures from April which show victimisations in the previous year fell by 3.1 per cent, with 8556 fewer Kiwis suffering at the hands of criminals compared with the year before.
Of the promised 1800 more sworn police, he says roughly 1100 extra officers will be deployed to community policing, increasing police visibility.
‘‘The additional 700 front-line officers will be dedicated to organised crime squads.
‘‘They will work across a range of crime prevention initiatives which will also increase community safety.
‘‘This includes disrupting international methamphetamine networks, dealing with gang leaders who head criminal operations, investigating cyber crime such as that occurring on the Dark Web, and complex financial and electronic crime, including money laundering and terrorist financing.’’
Assistant Commissioner Andrew Coster says despite a rise in cases of more serious Crimes Act assaults on police, this is driven primarily by noninjury assaults. ‘‘It doesn’t necessarily follow that the seriousness, at least in terms of physical violence, has increased.’’
He says there is no significant evidence of a change in respect for police.
The worst offenders
According to figures released under the Official Information Act, Counties Manukau had the highest rates of police assaults, recording 706 between June 2015 and January this year.
Bay of Plenty was second with 650 assaults in the same period, followed by Wellington with 633. Auckland City had 609, and Canterbury 566.
Police deputy chief executive Kaye Ryan says in the year to March 31, 660 recruits had begun training at the Royal New Zealand Police College.
‘‘Police have identified that
Northland, the three Tamaki Makaurau (Auckland) districts, Bay of Plenty and Eastern are priority recruitment districts. Significant focus will be on boosting police numbers in these districts,’’ Ryan says.
The top 10 sentences for assaulting a police officer from
2014-17 ranged from eight years in prison for the use of a firearm against an officer in Manukau, to
150 days for an assault in Hamilton.
Nine of those sentences were for a year or less in jail, with the majority being imposed on men aged 19-24 or 45-49.
The figures did not include cases where the occupation of the victim was not recorded.
Police Association president Chris Cahill.
Police deputy chief executive people Kaye Ryan.
Police Minister Stuart Nash.