28 Jun 2016

Local councils having to pick up policing tab

8:29 pm on 28 June 2016

Local councils are increasing the pressure on central government over what they call the systemic underfunding of police.

And the peak body representing local councils, Local Government New Zealand, says about a quarter of the country's councils are worried about picking up the costs of changes to community policing.

It believes if minor crimes are not dealt with, people will stop reporting them - and that will lead to even less money for police.

23062016 Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King. Police car.

Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Local Government New Zealand president Lawrence Yule said the organisation would ask its members to give it the authority to advocate for more money for community policing at next month's annual meeting in Dunedin.

"On the ground, policing is becoming a greater issue for people to be worried about," he said.

"In many cases, local government is stepping up by putting in CCTV, community patrols, security patrols and all the rest of it, which are effectively the ratepayers funding things which one could argue should be a central government cost."

Mr Yule said the remit would ask the government to make sure police had staff in every community, and that police chiefs did not have to compromise community patrols because of budget constraints.

He said in Hastings, his own town, the council was now spending nearly $1 million on CCTV, city assist ambassadors, and community and security patrols to fill the gaps.

Lawrence Yule.

Lawrence Yule Photo: SUPPLIED

The mayor of nearby Napier, Bill Dalton, said the local police station had been shut down and, even though it was being replaced by a smaller satellite station, the bulk of staff were now in Hastings.

"The police hierarchy tell me that they don't need police sitting around waiting to be called, because they are now a mobile force," he said.

"In a place like Hawke's Bay, if there's a problem in Hastings, everybody goes to it. If the next problem's in Napier, there is no one in Napier, and that's unacceptable."

Mr Dalton said police were simply under-resourced, and could not afford to spend time in the community unless they had been called out.

Tararua District Council mayor Roly Ellis said staff were not being replaced when they left, and he was worried the rural outposts may be the next to go.

"Central command are quite happy with this state of natural attrition and to keep carrying it on," he said.

"We are down somewhere around about nine police at the moment, we've got two advertised vacancies, but yet what's happening to the other seven? They've gone."

Mr Ellis said burglaries were up and many were not being attended and, in rural areas, poaching, rustling and cannabis plots were becoming more common.

A similar story has been told in Northland, where local businesses say their towns are increasingly lawless and the criminals are getting younger - and bolder.

Police Minister Judith Collins said the force was not being underfunded or provincial towns neglected, and councils were not filling gaps.

Police were in fact working in partnership with local government by monitoring CCTV cameras, supporting community patrols, and hosting volunteers in stations, she said.

The minister also pointed to the crime rate falling by 16 percent since 2011, and said technological advances such as issuing thousands of mobile phones to all frontline staff meant officers spent less time returning to desks to fill out paperwork.

But Mr Dalton was unmoved, saying he had never seen a cellphone slap on a pair of handcuffs.