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Kerre Woodham: The police have been left to pick up the pieces for too long

Kerre Woodham,
Publish Date
Mon, 12 Feb 2024, 1:34pm
Photo / File
Photo / File

Kerre Woodham: The police have been left to pick up the pieces for too long

Kerre Woodham,
Publish Date
Mon, 12 Feb 2024, 1:34pm

Funny old thing, last Thursday, Matt rang in - a serving police officer. He was calling in response to comments that the police simply don't have the time to turn up to burglaries and assaults at supermarkets.

We were talking about Foodstuffs looking at introducing facial recognition cameras and other forms of security, because the thefts and the assaults on staff have got completely out of hand.

Matt said, oh well, the police will rock up and they will deal with that. You don't need to do citizens arrests or this sort of security. The police don't rock up.

That's the very point. They don't rock up unless it is really, really serious, and then you might see them He said the reason police couldn't respond to criminal matters was because they were dealing with so many social services call outs and that there needed to be a change.

I think you'll find once the police go down the path of reducing the call outs for mental health matters, as they have in one of the particular organizations over in the UK, you'll see that frontline police will have a lot more time on their hands.

So that's what you do. Then you move on to family violence, of which very few matters end up in court, or I would have to say lead to any meaningful outcomes.

And if you do that, we'll have a lot of police with a lot more time on their hands to attend things like this. I mean, we've got a progressive government now that's going to make a big change, but it will take time. But these are things you got to do in order to advance our society, I think.

Well I agreed with him. Police are dealing with so many family harm situations. They're dealing with mental health callouts. I've seen them with, you know, two officers dealing with one woman at North Shore Hospital. They were there for hours.

Multiply that by 1000 times across the country and they're kind and they're gentle and they're patient, but is that their job? Psychiatric patients and their families were too, back in the mists of time, that when all the institutions were closed, there would be help and there would be care, and there would be assistance for them within the community.

Many, many, many of these people can live in the community perfectly well. Provided they have the sort of care that was promised. Was it delivered? No, it wasn't. And who is left to pick up the pieces? It's our police.

So I said to Matt, well, it would be great if we did see that sort of shift, if we did see social problems becoming the issue of social agencies. They were the ones that dealt with them, but I would probably see that in my grandchildren's time. You know, they would see that, I wouldn't.

Then what do you know, a briefing to Police Minister Mark Mitchell, the police proposed a managed withdrawal from non-crime social problems.

So the family harm call outs, the mental health and the child protection calls, gradually, the police would say no, that's not for us. Here's the number you call.

Police attendance to family home call outs have increased 80 per cent in 10 years. Yet more than half of the family harm investigations don't involve an offence being recorded, so there's all these police dealing with sad people, not bad people.

They're dealing with a family under stress, under pressure. They, and usually other agencies, they call in deal with that. The time it takes is immense. So the police have suggested that over time they'll withdraw from these call outs, they'll allow their roles to be filled by other agencies and they'll get on with policing.

You know who reports a burglary these days- unless it's an aggravated robbery?

If you've just had stuff nicked, do you even bother? You only do it for the case number to give to the insurance company. They say they will go back to policing, to doing what they were trained to do.

However, organisations that advocate for victims, women's refuge and the like, are really concerned and really alarmed. Women's Refuge chief executive Ang Jury said she simply can't see any agency that can step in and take the role of police.

And family lawyer Vicki Currie says there's no other agency that has the necessary tools to deal with mental health crises and child protection. She believes it's the responsibility of the New Zealand police to be at the front line and dealing with those issues.

I guess it comes back to, what do you believe our police should be doing? Where there has been a crime committed or about to be committed, or where life is in danger, then police should be involved.

Sometimes that will be our family harm situation. But for a lot of the mental health call outs, these are sad people, not bad people. And while the police and the main do a fantastic job of looking after them (it's the same with family harm situations), that's not what they're trained for. That's not what they thought they would be doing.

And in the meantime, crime occurs, petty crime occurs, petty crime gets bigger because crims know they can get away with it. There simply aren't enough police to deal with the criminals.

So the crims keep crimmy, while the police are trying to do the job of about four or five different agencies. It's simply not fair on them, and it's not fair on the community.

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