Country policing is about relationships because when the big inquiries occur - rapes, robberies, homicide - police need information quickly and they need to know where to find it.
The news that the number of police in New Zealand will increase and that rural/provincial police will increase by 145 is great, but where those positions are placed is of paramount importance.
The 'copper' who lives in town, has a beer at the club or pub and plays footy, netball or golf for a Stratford group, with kids at Stratford schools will make more contacts than an officer living in New Plymouth. If the CIB position, for example, with responsibility to cover Stratford works out of New Plymouth or Hawera, things will change for the locals and not for the better, unless individual staff members work very hard to keep in touch and form those relationships so the information will flow when it needs to.
You'd be excused for thinking I had a vested interest in seeing less police on the streets given the currency of criminal proceedings in my name, but I think it is a bit sad to see an increase in numbers so well applauded for other reasons.
I can't truly understand the need for a radical increase in police numbers when the crime statistics as far as we can rely on them, are falling. And this is a real drop in numbers of offences and not some artistic use of stats. There are more police than there has ever been and they are better equipped and remunerated than ever before. So if there is less crime, why do we need more police?
It is an anomaly that, at a time with low crime numbers, we have more people in prisons. Many of them are for administrative offences like failing to adhere to court orders which are not even indirectly violence offences. The need for increased police numbers takes account of the preventative effect that more constables on the street have. The greatest deterrent for criminal behaviour is the chance of getting caught so I am hoping that more police doesn't just mean they just lock more people up and blow the budget at the Ministry of Corrections. But almost more importantly is the placating effect of people feeling safer in their homes knowing the thin blue line is bulking up a bit, and that is just political.
I wonder about the integrity of allowing people to go on thinking crime is rife and their safety is at risk when in fact people are less likely to be burgled, assaulted, or otherwise infringed upon than in the previous 30 years. I am pleased to see the government's increase in police numbers of about 1100 - 880 sworn police and 245 non-sworn civilian staff have at least been allocated to deal with areas of concern like the investigation of child and sexual abuse and family violence and rural and provincial policing. Getting a response to a call for assistance in the rural areas has been like pulling teeth. Speaking to a call centre in Auckland, Wellington or even Palmerston North and having to explain the difference between a heifer and a steer is like lecturing your kids on the birds and the bees. When the default position of the police is not to attend, and to bat the complainant away with a rant about how busy police are, just doesn't stack up and certainly doesn't endear the public to awarding warm fuzzies. So news that there will be a non-urgent three digit calling number is great, but when we want to see a police officer, a call centre just won't cut it.
Opposition parties are making promises of an extra thousand police from Labour and an extra 1800 from New Zealand First with no explanation of exactly where and how these new officers would be deployed. In other words it is simply 'pork-barrel politics' because when it comes to voters' hot issues fear of crime is one of the Big Four, along with Health, Education and the Economy.
The government has responded to a need and a desire for more police but they had better turn up where they are needed, and put as much emphasis on prevention as they do on enforcement. Police and government should explain to people that they are truly safe and no longer need to suffer under the delusion that we need to be afraid of every bump we hear in the night.