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Police Commissioner unable to rule out job losses amid Govt's spending cuts

Author
Adam Pearse,
Publish Date
Thu, 15 Feb 2024, 4:25PM
Police Commissioner Andrew Coster fronted MPs of the Justice Select Committee this morning. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Police Commissioner Andrew Coster fronted MPs of the Justice Select Committee this morning. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Police Commissioner unable to rule out job losses amid Govt's spending cuts

Author
Adam Pearse,
Publish Date
Thu, 15 Feb 2024, 4:25PM

Police Commissioner Andrew Coster won’t speculate on whether his organisation can achieve the Government’s desired 6.5 per cent cut in spending without losing staff.

He acknowledges “trade-offs” are required to deliver such savings from a $2.2 billion budget, of which $17b relates to staffing.

Coster also shed light on the challenges posed by the Government’s tougher approach to law and order by saying the goal to train 500 new officers over two years is “certainly ambitious” and accepting further interaction with gang members through the proposed patch ban would likely lead to more assaults on officers.

Coster appeared before the Justice Select Committee today as part of the annual review of the police.

He faced repeated questioning from former police minister Ginny Andersen, who asked whether the Government’s plan to reduce spending across the public service by at least 6.5 per cent could be achieved by police without letting people go.

While he regularly cited his inability to directly answer such questions ahead of this year’s Budget, Coster said officials were examining what services could be changed or cut within the organisation.

He did accept a “range of trade-offs” were required to reduce spending by 6.5 per cent.

The Government had said police was one of several areas where any spending cuts would be re-invested in the “frontline”.

Andersen then asked whether cuts to non-sworn staff - those not within the police’s constabulary force - would impact frontline service delivery.

Coster said cuts to “back-office” parts of the organisation wouldn’t have an impact but acknowledged it was possible if non-sworn staff who supported those on the frontline were cut back.

One of the central planks of the Government’s law and order plan was its goal to train 500 extra police officers in two years. Police Minister Mark Mitchell was in hot water recently for indicating the target would require three years to achieve, before New Zealand First pushed National to honour the original terms as outlined in the coalition agreement between the two parties.

Coster said there was “no doubt” the target would be a challenge, having earlier detailed how police lost more than 450 officers per year to attrition and faced recruitment issues.

Ginny Andersen was the former police minister under Labour. Photo / Mike Scott
Ginny Andersen was the former police minister under Labour. Photo / Mike Scott

He said the policy was “certainly ambitious but not impossible”, saying more training could be offered outside of Wellington to bolster numbers.

Another key law and order policy was the proposed ban on gang patches being worn in public places. As part of the Government’s 100-day plan, legislation for this policy had to reach the House before March 8.

Coster wouldn’t disclose the enforcement tactics police had proposed concerning the ban but he did say it would be “very context dependent”.

The ban could be enforced either in-person as an officer saw a patch being worn publicly or it could be part of a bigger police operation.

Andersen questioned whether the ban would lead to an increase in assaults on police. Coster said police engaged with gangs every day but accepted that engagement led to higher rates of assaults. He clarified there were many unknowns relating to the legislation and how police would enforce the ban.

Coster also continued his efforts to signal police’s desire to decrease its involvement in callouts relating to mental distress and family harm.

He argued officers spent too much time dealing with such callouts and as a result, appeared less visible in public. Coster called for a “rebalance” of police’s role in matters more closely associated with social service agencies.

Coster recently said he wanted to see this shift occur within the year.

Adam Pearse is a political reporter in the NZ Herald Press Gallery team, based at Parliament. He has worked for NZME since 2018, covering sport and health for the Northern Advocate in Whangārei before moving to the NZ Herald in Auckland, covering Covid-19 and crime.

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