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King: Opening of Rotorua Police Custodial Facility

Annette King

17 July, 2008
Opening of Rotorua Police Custodial Facility

Before I talk about today’s opening of the new Rotorua Police Custodial Facility, I want to share with you sorrow at the death of Sergeant Derek Wootton while on duty in Titahi Bay early last Friday.

The funeral service for Derek at the Royal New Zealand Police College yesterday, just like the funeral service for Superintendent Steve Fitzgerald a few weeks ago, proved once again what a close family the New Zealand Police service is; and tragic events like Friday’s remind New Zealanders what a great debt we all owe to the men and women who serve in New Zealand Police.

Today’s event provides a much happier chapter in the history of the police family, however.

Not long after becoming Police Minister in 2005, I had two dubious pleasures.

One was inspecting the police cells at Whangarei. The other was inspecting the police cells at Rotorua.

Although since then I have seen a variety of police cells, in very large stations and very small ones, up and down the country, none that I have seen can compare to the dehumanising wretchedness of the cells in Rotorua and Whangarei.

I guess there was method in the madness of New Zealand Police in showing me the worst first.

It has certainly paid off in terms of results. I am proud to be able to tell you a new police station and cell block at Whangarei is fast nearing completion, and today, of course, we are all here to mark the official opening of this new $14.5 million hi-tech prisoner remand centre.

The person who took me on that first tour of the cells was Rotorua Area Commander Inspector Bruce Horne, and I am sure that today is a special day for Bruce and his police colleagues in Rotorua.

In the three years I have known Bruce, and grown to admire his enthusiasm, enterprise and sense of community spirit, there have been a number of firsts associated with him. In fact, Bruce was the first area commander to take me out on patrol, and the first incident we attended was a domestic violence case which I was quite happy to observe from within a locked vehicle.

Bruce was also the first area commander to cook me a barbecue meal to celebrate falling crime statistics, and he was also the first police officer to deck me out in full AOS gear so that I gained an appreciation of just what’s involved --- and I can tell you that while I may not have been rooted to the spot in fear, I was certainly rooted to the spot because I could hardly move given the tremendous weight of all the protective gear and equipment.

Thank you very much to Bruce and Bay of Plenty District Commander Gary Smith for inviting me back to Rotorua for this opening today.

I also want to acknowledge Police Commissioner Howard Broad; Deputy Commissioner Rob Pope; my colleague Conservation and Women’s Affairs Minister and Rotorua MP Steve Chadwick; Mayor Trevor Maxwell; area commanders Bob Burns (Taupo), Steve Bullock (Eastern Bay of Plenty) and Michael Clement (Western Bay of Plenty); National Property Office Project Director Jonathan Leach and the Police Planning and Finance team.

I also want to acknowledge Harry Hawthorn and other Corrections Department staff, Community Probation and Psychological Services, Queensland Police, the Rotorua Police Project User Group and Project Control Group, and the project designers, consultants, contractors and cost consultants.

This may not be a new police station, but this new facility is the 34th new or refurbished development since Labour became the Government in 1999. I am proud of the contribution we have made to rebuilding police infrastructure right around the country.

It is nothing more than our Police deserve, and our communities all over New Zealand also deserve to know that the Government is committed to providing police with the sort of facilities they need to help make our communities the safe places we all want them to be.

From what I’ve read in the Daily Post, andfrom progress reports I’ve received, this facility will make working conditions far safer for police, and will provide far more acceptable housing for prisoners on remand.

Their families will also be grateful for the facility. Until now, prisoners on remand have had to be taken sometimes long distances out of Rotorua, away from the sort of family contact that can be so beneficial for everyone at times of stress.

I am looking forward to be shown through the facility shortly, but before then I want to return briefly to the theme of safer communities, and a safer Rotorua in particular. Rotorua people can be proud of what Rotorua police have achieved; and feel reassured that the battle against crime is gradually being won here on many fronts.

Last year I was here at a time when there were several homicides in the Bay of Plenty region. That sort of series can occur occasionally in anywhere. Last year it was Rotorua coping with a sad series of events, particularly the Nia Glassie tragedy that affected us all.

We had fewer homicides nationally last year than for 10 years, but when one area suffers a series of events, it is easy for that area to get an unsafe name. In Rotorua’s case, that would have been most unfair, and I want to place on record how impressed I was, after spending time talking to investigating officers in some of those cases, by their continuing high morale, and by their determination to achieve results despite the long and hard hours they were working.

I want to thank those officers publicly today, but, just as importantly, to thank Rotorua police generally for their many achievements in recent years, and the Rotorua community for providing police staff with so much support in a number of voluntary capacities.

It is worth listing just some of Rotorua’s achievements, and to my mind they should be etched into the community’s understanding. The achievements, many due to the district’s enthusiastic adoption under Gary Smith of evidence-based policing, include:

· All crime reduced by 30 percent in the past few years, meaning about 3000 fewer victims.

· The lowest burglary rate for more than 12 years.

· The highest conviction rate in New Zealand for family violence offences, and the development and implementation here of family violence best practice standards.

· A 128 percent increase in reporting of family violence over 10 years. That statistic speaks volumes for the trust in which Rotorua police are held. And the achievements continue:

· The lowest theft ex car rate for more than 12 years.

· And just last month, the significant success of a Rotorua police strategy designed to take most of the risks out of the planed Tribesmen gang convention at Queen’s Birthday Weekend. I am sure the Tribesmen had very little of the fun they had planned to have --- but the law-abiding community around them could enjoy the weekend safely as a consequence of police interventions.

I want to finish today by quoting brief extracts from recent letters received by Rotorua police. One was from a father who had an argument with his wayward daughter in his car. She demanded to be let out, but when she did so bumped into two officers, Constables Lani Jackson and Dai Edwards. The father wrote to Bruce:

“Your officers were absolutely brilliant ... they spoke clear sense to my daughter. To illustrate how well your team did, consider this. For the past couple of years my daughter has become distant and slowly stopped giving her dad a hug. The lady officer was particularly firm with my daughter... (Afterward) I took my daughter to buy a hot chocolate, then dropped her at a friend’s.

“As my daughter disembarked … she leaned back in and gave me a cuddle. We cuddled for about two minutes and she broke down in tears. This is the key point of this letter. My girl got a real wake up call from this incident and she really went through a major bit of personal growth that night. Your officers were instrumental in achieving this. They supported me as a father in a very difficult situation and I have nothing but the greatest thanks and admiration for their efforts."

And the other letters come from schoolchildren, who wrote to Constables John Ure and Mike Robinson who were first on the scene at the school and caught a juvenile offender who had stolen a cellphone and keys. I’ll just quote briefly from three of the letters:

· “Thank you for finding the naughty boy who stole our teacher’s cell phone. Your dog was the coolest."

· "Thank you for coming so fast. The police dog must have been very excited...I think the boy’s punishment should be to clean up after the police dogs for a couple of weeks." And finally:

· "It was funny when our teacher ran after him. She was very glad that you came so quickly to help us."

These letters tell a real story about Rotorua police, and I’m sure those memories will stay with those children for the rest of their lives.

We are here to celebrate a new cell block today, but it is completely appropriate to celebrate Rotorua police and this community at the same time. Thank you very much for inviting me to join you.


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