Police only telling 'the good stuff'

Inspector Mel Aitken
Inspector Mel Aitken
The West Coast's top cop - a former Dunedin officer - says telling the public about police responding to crime is the "old school way of thinking".

Inspector Mel Aitken confirmed today that West Coast police weren't revealing many of the offences to which they had responded.

Instead, police were emphasising the "good stuff" they were doing, and crime prevention messages, she said.

The Westport News had asked the commander why daily media briefings from Westport police had disappeared since the new national police communications centre opened in May.

At the time the police assured media the new regime would mean better communication and reporters could still talk to their local police.

The reverse has happened.

The new hub is slow to respond to inquiries or publicise crime, local police have clammed up and few local incidents are reported.

Insp Aitken said today that Coast media should be using the hub as their first point of contact. She did not have her own team established yet, including a prevention sergeant who would ultimately manage the daily media communications.

"It's a state of flux until that position's filled - it's a bit of 'catch me if you can'.

"If we have something to report we will certainly report it, but we are not just going to have somebody sitting there for telling you that a letter box has got knocked over."

Once the new team was set up, Community Constable Paul Sampson would again be a media contact in Westport, she said.

"That way we can get the prevention message out into the community."

However, she made it clear the police would choose which crimes they made public.

"It's a case by case. If we have a pattern of offending - like we have a spate of burglaries or cars broken into in Westport - then absolutely it's something the community needs to know.

"But I absolutely don't believe that the community needs to know every time we have a burglary, or that somebody is dealt with and locked up because maybe they did something offensive."

The Westport District Court was told last week that police had twice tasered a local man involved in a dispute with a neighbour on June 18. It was the first the public knew of the incident.

Asked why today, Insp Aitken said: "Why do the local community need to know that someone's been tasered?"

Nor did she agree that police keeping the community informed of offences helped people to stay safe.

"Not necessarily… In some respects telling the community that someone has been tasered may actually make them feel more unsafe because we've got people out there we have to use force on to deal with."

The Westport News asked how police hoped to retain the support of the public, if the public didn't know what police were doing.

"It's a different mindset," Insp Aitken said. "If we can show them the good stuff we're doing and the prevention stuff we're doing, that's what we're here to do.

"The response stuff is the old school way of thinking. Yes, we've attended this and that and the other thing - I'd like to show the community these are the prevention things we're doing to keep them safe and stop those things happening."

Asked again whether the community had a right to know about crime, she responded: "What value does that add? … Just because a burglary may be reported, it may be the case it has nothing to do with anybody else to influence something that happens with them.

"I'm not just going to report on every burglary that happens in Westport."

She said she planned to tee up a meeting between the media and the police communications manager to find a "happy medium" for media communication.


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