Community policing disappearing

The New Zealand police have apparently decided which crimes will be made public and when those announcements are made.

Inspector Mel Aitken, who until recently was based in Dunedin, is now the top police officer on the West Coast.

She made public what has been recently suspected: West Coast police are not revealing many of the offences to which they have responded.

However, the West Coast is not on its own.

The same policy has been adopted in Otago where media calls asking about incidents in the South are referred to a media communications unit based in Wellington.

Insp Aitken, who was very open to media inquiries when in Dunedin, seems to have had a change of heart which can only have come from a directive sent down the line of command. This is particularly true when the same policy is being adopted in Otago.

Police are said to be emphasising the good stuff they are doing and crime prevention messages.

Daily media briefings are all but disappearing since the national police communications centre opened in May.

Insp Aitken made it clear police will choose which crimes they make public.

It is on a case by case basis.

While a spate of burglaries may reach the public, Insp Aitken does not believe the community needs to know every time there is a burglary, or that somebody is dealt with and locked up because they did something offensive.

Insp Aitken could not be more incorrect.

People in the community, and remember it is the community which pays for the police within it, have a right to know about events within their own areas.

It is not up to members of the police to decide which event should be made public and which should stay hidden.

In fact, some events are only made public days after they occurred, when the police finally need the help of the community to solve a crime.

The change has followed the reappointment of Judith Collins as Minister of Police.

In a coincidence, Ms Collins sent out a press release congratulating police on their success at the IPANZ Public Sector 2016 excellence awards on the same day as Insp Aitken's views went public.

The police force was the winner in "building trust and confidence in government'' as a result of its ongoing initiative Enhancing Trust and Confidence through Culture Change.

Ms Collins says earning public trust and confidence goes to the heart of New Zealand police.

Police work hard to build and maintain public trust and confidence and this is evident with trust and confidence increasing from 69% in 2007-08 to 78% in 2014-15.

There is no doubt there has been a cultural change in the police force, thanks in a large part to the work carried out by Louise Nicholas, who has worked with the police to develop a resource for victims of sexual assault.

There have been programmes on New Zealand television demonstrating how effective the police are in the community, but these are funded through New Zealand on Air and designed to show police in the best possible light.

In their defence, the police say they are now inundated with media requests from throughout the country about incidents and it costs them time away from solving crimes to acknowledge those requests.

Often, police are contacted by people they do not know and with whom they have had no working relationship.

Community policing is something which gives people living in those communities a sense of safety and wellbeing.

In Dunedin, the South Dunedin police station remains closed.

The North Dunedin and Mosgiel community stations are open for limited hours and are often staffed by non-sworn officers.

That is not what any community needs to feel safe, especially when crimes may be carried out nearby without the release of any details.

Concealing certain events from the community by the police is not appropriate and is something not to be encouraged.

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