Government may not meet target to add 1800 police in three years

The Government's promise of adding an extra 1800 sworn police officers in three years, could end up taking longer.

But the Minister of Police, Stuart Nash, is unapologetic about offering up a big, aspirational promise, saying they will reach the 1800 mark, sooner or later.

There's a key word in the Government's coalition agreement when it comes to their promises around the police - strive.

Mr Nash said the Government's goal was always going to be tough, which is why it said it would strive to add 1800 new police.

Coming up to 18 months under the new Government and the police promise is looking aspirational indeed.

Mr Nash said, as of 1 April, 666 officers had been added to the police force since July 2017, and there are a record number of sworn officers, at 9506.

But to reach their target, the police will need to double the amount of people they are adding to the force each month, over the next 15 months.

"I've always said it's an aspirational target. I've always said it would be a real challenge, but we're up for it," Mr Nash said.

"If it takes us slightly longer, well, I don't apologise for that because we are delivering hundreds more officers into our communities."

National Party police spokesperson Chris Bishop said 1800 new police was always going to be a stretch.

"It's going to end up being a broken promise by the Labour-New Zealand First government," Mr Bishop said.

"They made a big song and dance when they came to power 18 months or so ago about how they'd add 1800 extra sworn front line police over three years.

"They've only added 500 or so in 18 months so far, and they're really on track for about a thousand. They're going to be nowhere near what they promised New Zealanders."

Mr Bishop said National had promised to add 880 police in four years, and that was based on advice from the police.

"We never thought it was achievable. We had a much more realistic plan," Mr Bishop said.

"You just literally can't train enough officers in that time, when taking into account officers leaving the force at the same time.

"But politicians are the ones who make the promises, and they need to be held to account for them."

The Government does look set to blow away National's proposed figure of 880 police in four years, and Chris Bishop acknowledged that.

But it does not change the fact that it had promised 1800 extra police in three years, and at this rate the Government is on track for just 1100.

The Government said their increased funding of the police only started last year, so the recruiting numbers are bound to increase and they could catch up.

But Mr Nash is sticking by his point that 1800 was always an aspirational target that the government was striving for, and there's an important reason for that.

"The strive isn't a weasel word, it's to ensure that we do get the right men and women into our communities," Mr Nash said.

"If we can't do it in three years, then we will still deliver 1800. We've got one of the lowest levels of attrition in the state sector, but we've still got around 400 to 500 officers leaving each year.

"When we say it's delivering 1800 more officers, we still need to train about 3000 officers to get that 1800 increase."

Mr Nash said he is already seeing the effect of the rise in police numbers, and said crime has dropped since the Government was elected.

He said the strong presence for the Christchurch terrorist attack, and the Nelson fires, showed the police can act proactively with the increased numbers on the ground.

Ben Strang

Police generic image Source: