In the space of a week two teenage girls have been treated for injuries after being assaulted in daylight hours at a bus stop outside Rotorua library.
The city’s mayor, Tania Tapsell, has urgently requested the Police Minister step in and help with more officers.
“Our police do an amazing job, but to be honest we have one of the highest crime rates in the country and our police resourcing doesn’t reflect that, so this is an urgent request to the Government to help us out,” Tapsell told RNZ on Tuesday morning.
Just hours later, Police Minister Ginny Andersen spoke to Tapsell about the concerns she’d raised.
Andersen told Newsroom following the meeting that it was for the Police Commissioner, district, and area commanders to make calls about police deployment – not her.
Tapsell said the Rotorua Lakes Council had been spending up to $1.8 million a year for the last two or three years on security guards to protect the community because there weren’t enough police available to keep public spaces safe.
“We’re filling the gaps, but it’s not sustainable and we can’t keep doing it,” she said.
“We need help here in Rotorua.”
Tapsell said the influx of people moving into Rotorua for emergency housing had a “negative impact” and increased disorder in the community.
That prompted the council to hire security guards “because we wanted our residents to feel safe”, she said.
“They’re getting extra police, they already have extra police – 1800 extra police – and the way we get out of the emergency housing situation we’re in is to build more houses.”
– Chris Hipkins, Prime Minister
Andersen told Newsroom she’d spoken with Tapsell about how to “get back on top of safety in the community” and the police area commander was meeting with the mayor on Wednesday to discuss “additional support police can provide”.
On whether enough had been done to support Rotorua and other towns and cities facing disorder because of emergency housing and gang tensions, Andersen said the Government had been focused on youth programmes that would reduce offending and deal with underlying problems, such as family harm.
She didn’t accept a failure by the Government or police, despite security guards plugging the gap.
“Police work very closely with not just security guards, but a range of community initiatives to provide that support when it’s required.
“I don’t see it as a failure, I see it as a community response to working closely together to get on top of instances of crime,” she said.
Andersen and the Prime Minister refused to commit to increases to frontline police, saying they weren’t announcing policy.
Chris Hipkins said Rotorua had more police on the beat now than before Labour was in government after fulfilling a promise to train an additional 1800 officers.
“They’re getting extra police, they already have extra police – 1800 extra police – and the way we get out of the emergency housing situation we’re in is to build more houses,” he said.
“The police have been working with those communities about how we can make public spaces safer, that can include measures like extra lighting, CCTV and so on, and the police do work with local councils on those issues.”
He said if anyone was feeling unsafe in public places then that should be fixed with a combination of more police in that area and community safety measures.
National leader Christopher Luxon wouldn’t say whether more frontline police would be part of his party’s pledges ahead of the election.
He acknowledged the withdrawal of police from stations, particularly in regional New Zealand, and said National would “continue to look at what we can do about that”.
National’s likely coalition partner if in government, Act, is toying with the idea of increasing police officers per capita to better align with Australia.
Leader David Seymour told Newsroom Australia had about 20 percent more officers per capita and though Act hadn’t allowed for that increase in its alternative budget it could be something it considers.
Seymour also sees the role of police officers as having expanded too far, and he wants to reassess how “effectively and efficiently” police are deployed.
“I’m concerned, for example, that police are doing a lot of callouts to people on home detention. If there’s a way, we can make sure police are using more of their time that reduces harm, and less of their time policing people who probably should have been in jail anyway, that’s an example of how we’d take a different approach.”
The Greens and Te Pāti Māori have no commitments for additional frontline police and would prefer to see community initiatives and evidence-based approaches to dealing with youth offending.
Te Pāti Māori co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer pointed to Māori wardens as being a good solution for dealing with some of the behaviours, and Green Party MP Golriz Ghahraman told Newsroom there was plenty of evidence around which youth interventions work, and that was seldom extra police.
It’s not only public spaces in Rotorua where there’s been an increase in intimidating and unsafe behaviour.
In Auckland, violence and abuse by patients and visitors have resulted in staff at North Shore and Waitākere hospitals calling security or hitting the panic button thousands of times in a seven-month period, according to RNZ.
The New Zealand Nurses Organisation president Anne Daniels told RNZ security guards were too stretched to deal with the number of incidents, and often some situations involved a number being tied up and unable to respond to anyone else in the hospital until the situation was resolved.
She blamed agitated patients waiting far too long in emergency departments for treatment getting frustrated and upset and lashing out.
Hipkins told Newsroom it wouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that emergency departments “find themselves dealing with people at their worst”.
“These are not new problems and therefore the hospitals do work carefully and considerately to make sure there are safety measures in place to protect the staff there.”
He didn’t respond to whether the public should rightly feel unsafe in hospitals as a result.
Luxon found the abuse from patients at hospitals “utterly unacceptable” and said it was a message he’d heard from people he’d spoken to in emergency departments.
Asked what commitments he was making to increase security at hospitals, he said spending in health would increase every year under a National-led government, “and a big part of that is making sure we keep staff safe”.