Address to luncheon of the Ex Police Officers Club – Auckland

  • Judith Collins
Police

Papakura, 3 July 2009.

Thank you for inviting me to join you today.

It is a pleasure and a privilege to be among so many former members of the New Zealand Police – an organisation that is very close to my heart.

It speaks volumes about the police that the Ex Police Officers Club exists, and enjoys such support.

I have yet to meet a police officer that is not proud of playing a part in making New Zealand a better and safer place to live.

The bonds that tie you all are those of not only shared experience, but a shared sense of purpose. I applaud you for that.

When voters went to the polls last November, they did so with certain expectations of what the new government would deliver.

One of the greatest expectations was for a government that wouldn’t be afraid to tackle crime and make New Zealand a better, safer place to live.

People expect safe communities, where they can walk the streets without the threat of violence or intimidation, where they can sleep at night knowing their families are safe in their homes, and where their property is safe from theft or damage.

I believe that many New Zealanders felt that in recent years the criminals were getting the upper hand, and that the law was focused on the rights of offenders rather than the rights of victims.

In a short space of time, the Government has made significant progress on our commitment to ensuring New Zealand Police have the manpower, the tools and the legislative support to fight crime and criminals.

Vision for police

I would like to start by talking about my vision for the New Zealand Police.

I am immensely proud of our police. I believe them to be among the finest in the world.

No police service can sit still, or rest on its laurels. The New Zealand police are no different.

The police must respond to change – be it changing demographics, changing crime trends, changing expectations of society or changing technology.

At the same time, police must uphold some core values, such as integrity, honesty, respect for people and respect for the law.

Any vision for the future of police in New Zealand must be a combination of the new and emerging demands of society, and the values that inspire the confidence of the public and enable the justice system to function smoothly.

The front lines of crime today may be very different in the years to come. The future strategy of the police must anticipate these changes, and culture of the service must be agile enough to respond to emerging crime trends and threats.

Already we are seeing a police service that is more culturally diverse. Recently I attended the graduation ceremony of Wing 257 at the Police College which was incredibly diverse in terms of age, gender and race. This is a good thing.

We are seeing a police service that uses technology as a crime fighting tool. Digital police radios are being rolled out in the lower North Island. These are encrypted and will stop criminals monitoring police movements.

Already police have seen criminals move from an area with the radios to an area without them because they have less chance of being caught. In one case some burglars were caught red handed because they were monitoring the old police channel while the police were using the new digital system.

In the last Budget we allocated $10 million for the roll-out of tasers. Tasers are a great example of technology being used to keep the police and public safe.

One of the big differences between a confrontation one of today’s police might face, and what you might have faced, is the presence of the drug P.

As you’ll know, P makes people extremely violent and volatile. This increases the risk to officers substantially.

The Taser enables officers to control an offender from a safe distance. Each taser has a laser sight, and often the appearance of the red dot on an offender is enough to produce a dramatic improvement in their behaviour.

We want a police service that is well trained, well resourced and well supported.

One of our promises was to put extra police into neighbourhoods – not just a few dozen, but 600.

We have committed to an extra 300 police for Counties-Manukau by the end of 2010, and 300 around the rest of the country by the end of 2011.

Increasing the numbers of police will not only make police more visible and better able to respond to crime, but will be an opportunity to model better ways of policing.

More police will enhance understanding among police of the people in the community and their needs, it will increase the number of officers available to work with young people, and extra police will help build stronger and more effective community based crime prevention programmes.

I think this is an important point. The police service of the future must be one that has a very strong focus on preventing crime from happening.

New York City is currently one of the few places in the world that is actually closing jails. Earlier this year they closed four major correctional facilities and several prison annexes because of a sustained drop in crime.

It’s no co-incidence that this drop in crime comes at the same time as an increased police presence in the city in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks. More police on the street has meant less crime.

One thing I am a firm believer in is the deterrent power of a police officer on foot. I have seen groups of unruly young people become angels when a police officer appears around a corner.

I think the policeman on the beat was probably one of the core parts of the job when many of you were in the police. It’s a tradition I would like to see continued.

The police enjoy a fantastic relationship with the public, and I believe one of the main reasons for that is that they are accessible.

People still feel they can approach and officer and ask for help, or directions, or just stop for a chat.

The simple ability to connect with people, to empathise, to show and earn respect is perhaps the greatest skill that our police possess.

So my vision for our police is one of professionalism with common sense, the ability to manage extraordinary challenges while retaining the trust of ordinary people, to adapt to new crime trends while doing the basics quickly and thoroughly.

Legislative changes

On top of this, it is essential there is a total commitment to effective crime-fighting.

We have given the police the numbers, we have given them the tools, and we are also giving them the legislative teeth to roll back the influence of criminals.

I am unapologetic about the fact that the priority of the new Government has been the immediate safety of the public.

Much of our focus has been on criminal gangs. A couple of decades ago, these gangs were bad boys on bikes.

Today, they have evolved into sophisticated criminal networks that reach deep into our communities. We want to make their lives as difficult as we can.

We have hit the ground running by introducing new laws that:

  1. Target gangs by doubling penalties for being a member of a gang, and making it easier for police to intercept their communications.
  2. Make it easier for police to seize the assets and profits that gangs obtain illegally - including from the manufacture and supply of methamphetamine
  3.  Help clear unsolved crime by enabling police to collect DNA from people they ‘intend to charge', and match it against samples from unsolved crimes.
  4. Put victims at the centre of the justice system by requiring offenders to pay into a fund to help victims with costs not available through other means.
  5. Remove parole eligibility for the worst repeat violent offenders and those convicted of the worst murders

We’ve also introduced new legislation that will make it harder for illegal street racers to avoid penalty, and to prevent some of the increasingly violent behaviour we are seeing when groups of illegal street racers get together.

The cowardly attack on Sergeant Nigel Armstrong in Christchurch by a mob of illegal street racers and their friends was the last straw.

The extensive legislative programme and the funding in Budget 09 demonstrates just how important law and order is to this government.

At the same time, we have to remember that country is facing the most severe financial crisis since the 1930s.

As a responsible government, we have asked all departments – including police - to look at whether there are things they could do more cheaply and efficiently.

You will have heard from the Opposition that we are taking away police cars.

As Minister I cannot and have not directed police to reduce their vehicle fleet.  That is a matter for the Commissioner to decide.

The review of the Police fleet is an initiative that the Police are undertaking to ensure that it makes more efficient use of its vehicles.

Instead of having cars sitting idle for 16 hours a day, they will be looking at how they can be run for longer periods.

So while there might be fewer vehicles sitting in the driveway of an off-duty Police Officer there will not be any reduction in the number of Police and cars on the streets of New Zealand. 

I have made it very clear to Police that any reduction in spending must not jeopardise the safety of the public and I have received an assurance from the Commissioner that it won't.

Napier police siege

I would like to talk to you now about one of the most difficult times during my past seven months as Minister. That was the shooting of Len Snee in Napier and the wounding of Bruce Miller and Grant Diver.

One of the hardest things a Police Minister will face is the loss of an officer while carrying out their duty.

I was addressing a Blue Light conference in Queenstown when I received the call about the shootings in Napier.

My husband was a police officer for many years. I know the sacrifices police families make in terms of the time officers spend doing a very demanding job, but also the constant concern about the danger.

It takes a special type or person to be a police officer, to step into conflict and put yourself on the line to protect the public.

In the aftermath of the shooting, it was important that I was in Napier where I could provide the police with high-level authorisation should they need it, and to offer support to the injured officers and their families.

Even before the siege ended there were calls for a review of New Zealand’s gun licensing laws and calls for police to be armed.

As Minister, I understand that people who feel shocked and afraid after such an event look for quick solutions. But this is a complex situation, as is New Zealand’s relationship with firearms.

What is at stake is a style of policing that I believe is unique in the world. By arming our police, we forever change the relationship between the public and the police.

When this matter has been considered in the past there has been a general view among staff that they shouldn't be routinely armed.

Our police sign up because they want to help people – not shoot them.

I personally don’t believe that armed police are a legacy we need from the Napier tragedy.

Arming police also encourages a culture of greater violence. The death toll will be higher, the respect of the public that is such a vital part of policing in New Zealand will be lower.

Conclusion

This brings me back to the point I made earlier about the relationship between the police and the public.

I believe the greatest skill our police possess is the ability to connect with people, be it in our neighbourhoods or in the jungles of Timor Leste.

Looking forward, this is the quality that we must preserve at all costs. The nature of crime will change, the people the police are charged with protecting will change, the tools the police use will change.

But what won’t change is the expectation from the public of New Zealand that the police are there to look after them.

In the heat-of-day to day policing, it can be easy to forget that the police perform a service to the public.

New Zealanders will continue to give the police their confidence and their trust, but it is not unconditional.

In return they expect police to deliver a service with professionalism, accountability and an overriding focus on the needs of the public.

Thank you.