The organiser of a packed public meeting calling for more police in Paihia now plans to lobby the Government for better resourcing of Northland’s thin blue line.
The meeting, which followed a petition calling for permanent staffing of the Bay of Islands tourist town’s police station, drew an estimated 180 people with some listening via loudspeakers set up outside.
The station has not had its own staff since 2018 when Mid North police switched to a 24-hour roster. Officers now start their shifts at Kaikohe or Kerikeri.
Concerns about a lack of local police have been heightened by Covid-era changes in the town’s population and a perceived surge of crime.
Meeting organiser Morgan Pollock said it would be irresponsible to invite tourists back post-Covid when the town wasn’t safe for locals.
”We have no bus, no train, roads in disrepair, no banks and now we have no police. We bring in a lot of revenue from tourism but where is all that money going? It’s not coming back here.”
Pollock said no one had a quarrel with the work police did on the ground, it was the model they worked to.
If better policing couldn’t be achieved within current budgets, Paihia would insist the Government provided sufficient funding, she said.
During the meeting residents raised concerns about police response times, drug dealing, and speeding on Marsden Rd.
One woman recounted how she had seen a man hit an 8-year-old child in the face in a car park. She had her own children with her and was afraid to intervene, but when police arrived 40 minutes later the offender was long gone.
A Kings Rd couple said over the years they had spent $15,000 repairing shop windows broken by people fighting but the culprits had invariably dispersed when police turned up.
”We’ve had horrendous times,” said the woman, who did not want to be named.
However, police had arrested the street’s worst drug dealer just over a week ago.
Denis Orme, a former police superintendent, said without staff based full-time in Paihia the police had lost their best source of local knowledge.
He said police resources should be allocated according to crime rates and demographics, and Northland wasn’t getting its fair share.
Amanda McClelland said she wanted an officer based in Paihia that she knew and trusted.
”We don’t have that at the moment, police aren’t visible to us. There’s a disconnect,” she said.
Inspector Chris McLellan, acting area commander, fronted the meeting for the police.
Before 24-hour policing was introduced in the Mid North, Paihia had its own sergeant and three constables, but after a certain time at night they were on call only.
”It didn’t work, not for Kings Rd and not for the Lighthouse before that,” he said.
Under the current model, police were always on duty in the Mid North, not sitting in the Kerikeri or Kaikohe stations but out on the roads.
He said, however, police had to prioritise — if two incidents occurred around the same time they had to go to the most serious one first.
In particular, Northland police were called to ”an awfully high number” of family harm incidents.
The current model was based around evidence and ”putting police in the right place at the right time”, McLellan said.
He disputed claims that the use of tourist accommodation as emergency housing for out-of-towners had led to a rise in crime. There had been no significant spike in crime that could be connected to emergency housing, though police were responding to calls about family harm they didn’t get previously.
Responding to a question from Business Association chairman Charles Parker about what locals could do to help, McLellan said they could consider reinstating the town’s community patrols or a system like CitySafe in Whangārei.
He commended plans to expand the town’s CCTV network but said the best thing people could do was report crime by calling 105 or 111 if it was urgent.
Paihia resident Jackie Matthews also urged locals to report crime instead of ”just moaning on Facebook”.
The last word went to town caretaker Vern Witehira who said there was ”too much whingeing” and called on people at the meeting to show themselves in town.
”Come for a walk with me, that’s what we need in town, the community showing itself. All the riff-raff will know they’re being watched.”
Also at the meeting were Northland MP Willow-Jean Prime, her predecessor and ex-cop Matt King, National police spokesman Simeon Brown, community board representative Belinda Ward, senior police, and kaumātua and kuia from Te Tii Marae.
Paihia police station has re-opened three days week for a two-month trial to gauge demand.
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