Backing the Police

  • Judith Collins
Police

Good morning and thank you for inviting me to speak to you today.

It gives me great pleasure to open the 2010 Police Association Annual Conference.

I would like to welcome you to Wellington.

I would like to especially welcome those of you from Canterbury.

I hope that you, your families and friends were not badly affected by the recent earthquake.

If you were, I hope you have plenty of support and are managing to get your lives back on track.

Police Association Conferences are well known for tackling important issues and generating lively discussion.

As such, I'm sure the next two days will be stimulating and productive for you all.

I would like begin by congratulating Greg O'Connor for being re-elected President of the Association for a seventh term.

I think this speaks volumes about how respected Greg is and how effective he has been as an advocate for the Association's members.

It is due to Greg's professionalism that the Government holds him, and the Police Association, in such high regard.

Greg and I are in regular contact on a wide range of issues.

Of course, we don't agree on everything, but there some very important things we do agree on.

We both want less crime in our communities.

We both want our Police to be well equipped, well trained and well supported.

We both want our Police to be as safe as they possibly can be while serving the people of New Zealand.

We want staff to be engaged and feel they have a rewarding future with the New Zealand Police.

And we both want the Police to have the trust, respect and confidence of the public.

I look forward to furthering that close relationship as the Government and Police work together to roll back the influence of criminals in this country.

Over the past two years I have spoken about law and order with many groups in the community.

I tell people that the Police can count on the backing of the Government.

We recognise that Police are our frontline defence against crime.

Our justice system exists primarily to keep the public safe and to seek redress and closure for victims of crime.

But it is also about creating a better society and a better future for New Zealand.

Criminal behaviour is like a tax on the entire economy.

A society with low crime is generally more productive, happier, more cohesive and healthier than one that has high levels of crime.

Crime reduces the competitiveness of our businesses, creates uncertainty and diverts resources away from productive parts of the economy.

This Government has a vision of a strong economy and a high standard of living for New Zealanders.

This is why law and order has been one of our main priorities.

Over the past two years we have taken some big steps to lower the amount of crime in this country.

Violent crime destroys people, families and communities.

We've passed new laws to toughen sentences, parole and bail for violent offenders.

Our Three Strikes law will keep the worst repeat violent offenders behind bars - where they can't harm the public - for longer.

Nothing deters crime like the sight of blue uniforms.

By the end of this year we'll have increased the number of frontline officers in Counties-Manukau by 300.

By the end of next year, a further 300 officers will be on duty around the rest of the country.

Already, more than 400 extra officers are on duty.

We've given Police new tools to go after criminals, including 720 new Tasers and a new power to DNA test offenders arrested for a wider range of offences.

When I addressed this conference last year I said that the rise of organised crime was one of the biggest threats to this country.

Not only do criminal gangs generate much of the crime in the community in the form of drug dealing, violence and money laundering, but they increase the risk of corruption, which we do not want here in New Zealand.

Since then, Police have been very busy making life a misery for New Zealand's underbelly.

Armed with new powers to intercept gang communications, dismantle gang fortifications and seize property from criminals, Police have tackled the gangs head on.

They've closed down clan labs, seized proceeds of crime and intercepted record amounts of methamphetamine.

As at the end of August, $29.7 million worth of assets had been restrained under the Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Act.

An estimated $30.6 million worth of assets are being investigated as a result of methamphetamine offending.

Police are holding a further $7.8 million worth of assets that were seized under other legislation.

There was a 15 percent increase in methamphetamine related offences this year compared to the two previous years and a 17 percent increase in apprehensions across the same period.

The number of clan labs closed down is also up.

Many of these labs have been found as a result of nationally co-ordinated investigations that are targeting organised crime.

The amount of methamphetamine seized in 2010 to 30 July represents a 140 percent increase compared to the same period in 2009.  

One thing is for sure - being a major drug supplier is not as easy and not as profitable it once was thanks to the outstanding work of New Zealand Police.

The 2009/10 crime statistics, released a fortnight ago, show an encouraging trend - overall reported crime per capita is down 1.3 percent.

A trend in recent years of increasing numbers of violent crimes appears to be flattening.

Assaults in public places are trending down and large rises in family violence in recent years were more moderate in 2009/10

Police resolved 523 more offences and increased the national resolution rate from 47.9 percent to 48.1 percent.

Bringing down crime is less about luck than being smart, being thorough, doing the basics well and sheer hard work.

I would like you to know that this Government is aware of the enormous effort by Police that has gone into this result.

On behalf of the Government, I would like to congratulate and thank you all.

Backing Police doesn't just mean ensuring Police have the manpower, the tools and the training.

It also means standing behind Police to get on and do the job.

I get to speak to a lot of groups in the community. I tell them that the New Zealand Police are the best in the world.

If they look doubtful about that, I ask them which police service they would rather have.

No-one has ever suggested a better one to me.

During the past two years as Minister of Police I have visited stations from Kaikohe to Invercargill and met many hundreds of truly inspirational Police staff.

During this time there have been several crises that have shown the character of our Police.

The terrible shooting of Len Snee, Bruce Miller and Grant Diver in Napier was difficult for every member of NZ Police.

Yet the response during the event, and after, showed the sort of cool-headed commitment to duty and public safety that we have come to expect.

The outpouring of support for Senior Constable Snee's colleagues and family from within Police was truly humbling.

The recent Canterbury earthquake also showed Police at their best.

Staff whose houses were damaged in the earthquake turned up to work, and others rang in offering to cancel leave to help.

Police were inundated with offers of help from staff around the country.

Police showed incredible courage and leadership in managing the crisis without loss of life to Police or innocent members of the public.

A few days ago I was in Bamyan province in Afghanistan where I visited the New Zealand Police team that is helping train the Afghan National Police.

I spoke to several senior Afghan government and Police officials and they were all unanimous in their praise for the fantastic work being done by those officers.

I can tell you, they are working in very challenging conditions, but are making a big difference as that country builds a more peaceful and stable future.

It's in situations such as these that the professionalism and dedication to duty of our Police really shines through.

Despite this, there is no shortage of critics who freely offer their views on how Police should and shouldn't conduct themselves.

They say Police shouldn't try to apprehend motorists that run from the law, have their own bars where they can socialise with colleagues, or carry Tasers to defend themselves.

Well, I think those views are nonsense, and I've not been shy in saying so.

It is absolutely vital that Police have the respect and confidence of the public.

New Zealanders want to see a Police service that is strong, visible, caring and committed to cleaning up the streets.

They won't respect a Police service that goes soft on offending, gives quarter to dangerous criminals or sways in the wind of political correctness.

The Police have a very important job to do if we are to have a safer and better future in this country.

I've told many Police around the country that they can count on the support of this Government to get on and do it.

I'm reiterating that support to you today.

Looking forward, there are a few issues that we will be working through which will be of interest to members of the Association.

The shooting of Senior Constable Bruce Lamb and Constable Mitchel Alatalo during a routine call-out in Christchurch in July again highlights the risks officers face from offenders who are armed.

I'm not convinced we are at that point where we should routinely arm officers, but I do agree that our officers need faster and easier access to firearms.

For the past few months the Commissioner has been working on proposals that ensure officers have firearms close at hand if they need them.

He'll be reporting back to me before the end of the year.

One option he is likely to consider is lock boxes for pistols in the front of Police vehicles.

I'd be happy to support that. However, what I wouldn't support are officers wearing guns at schools, in malls or where they have a lot of contact with the community.

One of the things that makes our Police the best is the style of policing we have here in New Zealand.

Our men and women in blue are not seen as enforcers, but as people who are there to help and protect other people.

As New Zealand has grown, our Police have stayed close to the communities and the people they serve.

I certainly think that the fact that our officers are not routinely armed is a major part of the excellent relationship between the Police and public.

Another area of focus will be improving service delivery.

I believe the Police deliver a good service, and this is reflected in the high levels of satisfaction by the public.

Yet no organisation can rest on its achievements.

As with every other government department, there is an expectation from the public that Police will be constantly looking at ways to do things more efficiently and effectively.

I don't think anyone begrudges what the Government invests in law and order in this country.

But we have to be mindful that the cost of policing in New Zealand has more than doubled over the past decade, from $650 million in 1999 to $1.37 billion in 2009.

Spending over the whole criminal justice sector has increased from approximately $2.1 billion in 1997/98 to $3.8 billion in 2008/09.

On current settings this is expected to increase to $6 billion by 2020.

In an economy the size of New Zealand's, this is not sustainable.

The Policing Excellence project, several workstreams of which are already well under way, aims to improve operational and financial performance.

Part of the emphasis of the project will be a shift in resources to frontline roles, reinvestment in a range of neighbourhood policing roles, and using technology to free up staff for crime prevention work.

Rosters will be changed so there are more officers on deck where and when they needed.

As I mentioned, I'm a firm believer that nothing deters crime like plenty of officers on the beat.

Officers will be given the flexibility to use discretion when dealing with some less serious offences while still holding offenders to account.

Officers will spend less time behind desks and more time on the streets where they can respond more quickly to calls for service.

The project doesn't mean there will necessarily be less money available to Police. It does mean that it will be used where it really matters.

It's very important that everyone in Police is on board with this new strategic direction.

Of course, the best ideas often come from the frontline.

If you have suggestions as to how Police can improve services to the public, how obstacles to good policing can be removed, or how resources can be used better, I'm sure the Commissioner would be delighted to hear them.

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Thank you, again, for inviting me to open this conference.

It is always a privilege to speak to a group of men and women who are dedicated to a better and safer future for all New Zealanders.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for doing what we all recognise is an incredibly difficult, but important job.

I am enormously proud of what has been achieved.

When I visit police stations around the country I am extremely heartened by the confidence among Police about the task they face.

We cannot give in to crime. To do so is to betray our future.

This is a fight that can be won, and is being won.

And as you and your members patrol our streets, hunt down those who make and distribute P, search for lost people, maintain order in our towns and cities or comfort those in need, know this:

The Government will be right behind you.

I am now delighted to declare the conference open.

Thank you.