Police station volunteers 'symptom of restructuring'

Greg O'Connor.
Greg O'Connor.
Unpaid civilians manning police stations are a symptom of the taxing restructuring facing Southern police, the Police Association's southern director says.

Grant Gerken, director of the association's region 7, said cuts to support staff and hours seemed likely to continue nationally.

However, the impact those cuts would have in the Southern district was a case of ''wait and see''.

''Inevitably, if those reductions hit Southern, the utilisation of volunteers ... is likely to increase ... in the foreseeable future.''

Mosgiel and Port Chalmers police stations are looking for civilian volunteers to provide counter services because of low staff numbers, which had been cut because of low crime levels.

While there were possible benefits to the idea, it was symptomatic of the national restructuring of police, Mr Gerken said.

''Southern, like most policing districts, has undergone a sustained period of restructuring over the last few years.

''This has, in effect, meant that some stations have lost support officers and/or support officer hours and now have no other option other than to either close to the public, reduce their opening hours or utilise volunteers.''

The policy came with a cost to the public - ''who inevitably see reduced service in some areas'' - and police staff, he said.

''Some Southern staff are now at a point where they are left wondering where it [restructuring] will stop.''

Police Association president Greg O'Connor said, in May, a $40 million cut to the police budget had made policing harder.

''The police budget has effectively been frozen since 2010,'' he said.

''Now this year, police are receiving around $40 million less to do the job... We are no longer frozen; we are going backwards.

''Cuts appear to be across the board, including key areas like road policing, prevention and response policing.

"These are the services that matter to the public. Delivering them to the standards New Zealanders deserve is already hard enough.

"These cuts can only make it harder.''

Mr O'Connor said there was an ''increasing risk of operational failures'' because of a lack of resources and although crime and fear of crime statistics were low, that ''could quickly turn''.

Southern district commander Superintendent Andrew Coster said having volunteers man stations did not mean there would be a reduction in service.

''Southern District Police is committed to providing a high level of service to our communities,'' he said.

''In stations where volunteers are already working, the level of service to the community remains high.''

The new approach reflected a ''lesser focus on bricks and mortar''.

''The measures of success continue to be reductions in crime and crashes, preventative deployment and the visible presence of police in communities,'' Supt Coster said.

Staff levels remained similar to those three years ago, although there were 14 fewer non-constabulary staff.

''We currently have 557 constabulary positions and 79.3 positions in Southern District as at June 30, 2014,'' Supt Coster said.

''At the same time in 2011, we had 558 constabulary positions and 93.8 positions.

"This means that across our 636.3 staff we have one fewer constabulary staff member and 14 fewer employee positions.''

In many cases, the use of volunteers at stations allowed police to provide services they could not otherwise provide.

''The reality is that a wide range of queries present at police stations, many of which do not relate to core policing work,'' he said.

''The presence of volunteers can provide a valuable community service that goes beyond that police would normally provide.''

The issue of police resourcing and crime reporting have come into national focus this week as the Labour Party claimed police were being instructed to charge fewer people in order to meet government crime reduction targets.

Police Minister Anne Tolley said the claims ''unfounded and outrageous''.

timothy.brown@odt.co.nz

And the rich get richer

Geronimo: I am sure Paris would be prepared to lend Madame Le Guillotine for a while to sort out the rich from the poor! Let's storm the Wellington Bastille in September? Or is this sort of talk not permitted? 

Serfdom

Why is it that those earning a big salary think it's perfectly OK for others to work for no pay? It's absolutely outrageous.

Recall DCC senior managers, after crowing about cruise ship revenue in the city, then asking for volunteers to work at the Port Chalmers information centre.

 

Police volunteers

There are a number of problems with having volunteers in police stations:

1. You have to wonder at the mentality/motives behind someone doing unpaid work in that environment.
2. Information made known to such people will not be as confidentially safe.
3. They will be in a situation when they are asked a multitude of questions pertaning to all aspects of the law.
4.  I suspect they will spend most of the time calling for a constable to come back to the station as they are unable to take complaints, give any advice and/or feel threatened or intimidated in some circumstances.

And if they make mistakes who are they accountable to? They can just shrug it off or walk away - being unpaid gives you that freedom. As for police numbers being reduced as crime is falling, dubious statistics cannot be relied on. In any case, if crime is falling the police are doing a great job and the numbers should be retained to keep those levels low.

If these concerns are addressed by police heirarchy I have no doubt they will trot out those tired old dogs of an argument - all volunteers will have complete police and background checks and will be fully trained to work at a police station. Save us from busybody nosepoking unqualified untrained and misguided do gooders please!

Vigilantes next?

What next? Vigilantes on the streets? That'll be interesting.

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