'Significant changes' to southern policing

Southern District commander superintendent Andrew Coster. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
Southern District commander superintendent Andrew Coster. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
Policing in Otago and Southland is undergoing ''significant changes'' aimed at maximising frontline policing while reducing administration time, the Southern district's top cop says.

Superintendent Andrew Coster knows his statistics.

The district's new commander said over the current fiscal year foot patrols had increased 50% compared to the previous year. Checkpoints were up 13% and visits to licensed premises up 22%.

While crime around the district and the country was falling, the public perception was often ''not well connected to the reality - as the public perception of safety is not increasing at the same rate that crime is falling''.

As for isolated serious crime, where people think `that could have been me', ''the likelihood of it being them at any time in the future is incredibly small''.

The drop in crime at a national and district level showed that the new police prevention first operating strategy was working, he said.

And statistics, such as crime in the district falling 27% in 2012-13 when compared with 2008-09, showed the changes were having an impact.

New smart devices and telephone dictation were helping free staff from office work and give them more time on the front line.

''We are moving to a point that the frontline staff don't need to spend time in the station; they are out being deployed proactively.

Using the available technology, they could do their reporting in real time rather than at the end of a shift, he said.

Police were encouraging the public to report non-urgent crime via the Crime Reporting Line. Details were given to staff at a call centre and information collated and assigned to local police.

''The local cop may still come and visit off the back of the Crime Reporting Line, but at least, the reporting bit is done for them and in a timely fashion.''

Staff were positive about the changes, as it aligned with their hopes for the job when they joined the force - active policing rather than spending time at the station doing paperwork.

He estimated smart devices were contributing towards a large saving in administration work, and once systems were fully embedded it was possible each officer would be spared a day of administration duties each week.

To deliver the changes, support staff had been centralised and police were now ''less tied to bricks and mortar to deliver a policing service''.

He said he understood having a manned police station in a neighbourhood helped that community feel safer.

''But, actually, it is less about how many police we have sitting in a station at a particular place and more about how well are we able to deploy our resources to areas of risk.''

Asked if the new direction was foreshadowing closures, Supt Coster said: ''I have no knowledge of any intention to close any police station.''

People needed to know that the placement of police was more dynamic than it was a decade ago and ''if you are judging the security of your neighbourhood by the number of police staff at a local police station, you are not understanding the way we are deploying these days''.

Asked if some areas were under-resourced. he replied that if you took into account the resources in the Southern district compared to the demand ''we are probably the best resourced district in the country''.

Meanwhile, he stressed a potential move to align the Clutha district with Southland was not a ''formal proposal'', but staff had been asked to provide submissions by January 24.

In practical terms, the move to Southland would mean ''very little'' change in how Clutha police operated, and the public were welcome to submit, he said.

The changes, such as smart devices and the introduction of the district command centre meant ''the focus is on ensuring that we have police staff doing the right things in the right places at the right time''.

Success would be measured by a reduction in crime and crashes, preventive deployment of officers and the visible presence of police officers in Otago and Southland communities, he said.

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