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.

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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

2015.

‘‘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.

KEVIN STENT/STUFF

Po­lice As­so­ci­a­tion pres­i­dent Chris Cahill.

Po­lice deputy chief ex­ec­u­tive peo­ple Kaye Ryan.

ROSS GIB­LIN/STUFF

Po­lice Min­is­ter Stu­art Nash.

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