You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Parties play the police numbers game

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 13/10/2016 Peter Wilson, Political Writer

On Thursday Labour Party leader Andrew Little pledged his party would increase police numbers by 1000 if it wins next year's election.

On Friday NZ First's Winston Peters trumped that with an extra 1800 officers on the beat.

The government's bid is still to come, Police Minister Judith Collins says she's "working through the numbers".

When she does make an announcement, speculation is that she'll have to bite the bullet and reveal a figure of between 400 and 500.

The opposition parties will scorn that and say it's not nearly enough to make the streets safer.

Labour has costed its pledge at $180 million, NZ First calculates its promise will come in at around $324m.

Collins hasn't said how much the government is prepared to spend.

It's a vote-grabbing issue and Peters has said his pledge is bottom line, which means it won't be negotiable if he goes into coalition with either Labour or National.

Both parties use the police-to-population ratio as the basis for their policies.

Labour says it was 1:500 in 2008 and it's 1:528 now.

Its policy would bring the ratio to below 1:500.

Peters uses the more frequently-used current figure of 1:526, and compares that with Australia's 1:432.

He says that when police on traffic duties are taken out of the equation, New Zealand has one officer for every 600 people.

Both parties accuse the government of running down the police force, which is vigorously denied.

Labour's pitch in Little's speech was that the police are stretched too thinly to stop most criminal activities because they simply don't have the funds to do their job properly.

"The thin blue line is reaching breaking point," he told the conference.

"Our police are valiant and hard working, but they are over-stretched and under-resourced - this means fewer crimes solved and more criminals staying on the street to commit further crimes."

Those comments weren't aimed at his audience - police already know more than he does about being over-stretched - they were intended for the ears of anyone who believes New Zealand is becoming a less safe place to live.

Peters had some strong statistics to back his case.

"The police budget has been frozen since 2010," he said.

"New Zealand has at least 208 `ghost' police stations where not even one officer could be maintained over four consecutive Fridays and Saturdays.

"In the first half of 2016, 73 police stations didn't even have one officer rostered to work in them.

"In 2009 there were 3161 general duty constables. This year there are 2593."

Peters said that instead of delivering extra officers, the government had given them iPhones and iPads.

"We haven't seen an iPad make an arrest yet."

The policies announced this week will endure through to next year's general election campaign, but Labour also has its eye on a more immediate issue - the December 3 Mt Roskill by-election.

The suburban Auckland electorate has seen numerous dairy robberies, and Labour's candidate Michael Wood is sure to focus on that.

His only challenger will be National's still-to-be-chosen candidate, and with law and order likely to become a main issue the government is going to have to think hard about whether it's prepared to hand the high ground to Labour.

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon