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PM English dangles $503M crime-busting package with early intervention, more cops

Thursday 2nd February 2017

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Prime Minister Bill English has used his state of the nation speech to announce a $503 million boost to justice spending, adding 880 police officers and more staff in rural and regional police stations, as well as more resource for preventing crime.

The Safer Communities package will fund 1,100 new police staff, the bulk of whom would be sworn officers, increasing the frontline officers to about 9,800 by June 2021, along with more than 3,200 other police staff. The package also includes funding for a national 24/7 phone number for non-emergencies, 140 more staff for 20 rural and regional police stations, 74 new specialist investigators for serious crime such as child protection, family violence and sexual assault, 80 additional officers to target organised crime, gangs and methamphetamine, and 20 additional ethnic liaison officers to support Chinese, Indian and other ethnic communities.

"Although recorded crime has fallen since 2009, overall demand for police services has recently increased," English said. "That's down to the complexity and time-consuming nature of cases such as family violence, child abuse and sexual assault, as reporting of these crimes increases." 

All police districts will receive extra officers, English said, and 95 percent of the population will live within 25 kilometres of 24/7 police presence. The police Eagle helicopter will be available around the clock with the response time of 10-15 minutes, and there will be 12 new mobile policing units.

English emphasised the package as part of what he calls "social investment" - changes to the way public services are provided including earlier intervention. 

"There is a group of around 1,000 five-year-olds each year who, in later life, are far more likely to commit crime, be on a benefit or go to jail, and they’re far less likely to succeed at school," English said. "Left alone, each of these children will cost taxpayers on average around $270,000 over the next 30 years, with some costing over $1 million. We will spend time and money now to change the course of their lives."

The approach has shown "promising results", with the number of sole parents on a benefit the lowest since 1988 and 50,000 fewer children living in benefit-dependent households than in 2011, he said. Safer Communities is part of this strategy, with crime prevention often requiring intervention from education or housing agencies rather than the police alone, English said. 

The non-emergency number, to be launched from next year, is for reporting low-level or historic crime and giving information about suspicious activities. Deputy Prime Minister Paula Bennett, who is also the police minister, said the centralised service will make police more easily accessible. The number will be easy to remember, possibly a three-digit or 0800 number. 

Bennett said the government wants to attend 98 percent of home burglaries within 48 hours from the current 86 percent. It also wants to seize $400 million of cash and assets from gangs and organised crime, up from $230 million.

“We are prepared to put more of the worst criminals behind bars. That’s why part of the Safer Communities package is $115 million aimed at supporting the Ministry of Justice and Department of Corrections," Bennett said. "This will include a boost for Corrections’ rehabilitation and reintegration programmes and staffing. It also includes more money for supporting courts to handle more cases."

English announced yesterday that the general election will be held on Sept. 23.

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