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Clark: Opening of Police Assn Conference

Wednesday 12 October 2005

Rt Hon Helen Clark
Prime Minister

Address at
Opening of 70th New Zealand Police Association Annual Conference

James Cook Hotel

9.30 am

Wednesday 12 October 2005

Thank you for the invitation to open your conference today.

I want to acknowledge that the past couple of years haven’t been easy ones for the Police. The organisation appears to have been the focus of even more media and public scrutiny than is usual. As well, in the intensely competitive environment of our MMP Parliaments, the Police are all too often caught up in the frenzy of debate between opposing parties.

What I appreciate is that the Police have got on with doing their job – and striving to do it ever better – despite the many pressures. The New Zealand Police are known for being a proud, disciplined, and loyal force, and for having a strong ethos of service to the community.

This year the theme of your conference is “Proud to Police” – and there is much for the Police to be proud of.

Smart and proactive policing must take some of the credit for the drop in the crime rate, which now stands at its lowest level in around 23 years – and 22 per cent lower than its peak in 1996.

Undoubtedly the steep fall in unemployment has also helped bring the crime rate down, but so has the work of Police to nip crime in the bud and resolve it quickly.

The resolution rate for all recorded crime now stands at 44.6 per cent, the best rate in seventeen years.

While Police numbers are always a topic of debate, I do believe our government has worked conscientiously to lift them. In our first five Budgets, we provided funding for over 1400 more positions, and this year’s Budget added funding for another 265 in response to the review of the Police Communication Centres.

Now we are pledged to add another 250 Community Police over the next two years to provide a more visible Police presence on our streets. I am aware that the Association has campaigned this year to boost sworn Police numbers by 540 over two years. We need to continue to talk about the numbers needed to give the community good service. But I am conscious, as the Association is, that in times of low unemployment and skills shortages, recruitment is tougher – and it is important not to relax standards.

The truth is we are under pressure to deploy more Police at home and abroad. The fast population growth in the top half of the North Island, particularly in Auckland, creates a need for ever more Police.

Our communities are changing fast and becoming much more ethnically and culturally diverse. The government fully supports the efforts the Police are making to recruit from right across our diverse communities. Also commendable are the efforts the Police are making to be responsive to the many cultures and beliefs in New Zealand today. Only this week, a new handbook has been issued to help Police understand different religious and spiritual beliefs practised in our country.

Offshore, New Zealand Police are also in great demand – and I take that as a compliment to New Zealand and to the New Zealand Police.

Our Police are well known in the Pacific for big assignments like those in Bougainville and the Solomon Islands. In the past year, we responded to a request from Niue to supply their Chief of Police.

As well, Kiwi Police are based in Bamian, Afghanistan, helping to train local recruits.

A professional, honest police force is a critical asset for any nation – and our force is looked to as a model by many.

Among the most difficult assignments has been that in Thailand after the tsunami, where the Police Disaster Identification Team has been contributing to identifying the victims’ remains. All team members deserve our thanks for representing New Zealand, and for helping the victims’ families gain certainty about the fate of their loved ones.

At home, the fight against crime will require us to meet ever more challenges. While new technologies and science provide the Police with more tools, they also provide new tools to criminals. The battle against organised crime in all its manifestations and its international links is ongoing. Fighting drugs like methamphetamines has required new strategies and many more resources – and the Police Association has been at the forefront of raising public awareness of the seriousness of the “P” problem, and of organised crime in general.

New legislation introduced to Parliament in June will step up the powers the state has to tackle organised crime and those who live off its proceeds.

This Civil Proceeds and Instruments Bill will replace the current Proceeds of Crime Act 1991. It introduces a civil forfeiture regime. Once the Court has found on the balance of probabilities that property is the proceeds of crime, the Court will be able to order confiscation of the asset. It is estimated that the state will be able to confiscate up to $14 million a year from gangs and organised crime under the new law.

The Bill will have an immediate impact on becoming law by applying retrospectively to all assets and benefits derived from crime over the seven years prior to a restraining or forfeiture order being made by the Court.

International experience shows that civil forfeiture regimes are the best way to target gang bosses who keep themselves at arm’s length from actual offending but still benefit from it.

Stripping criminal gangs of assets will also seriously reduce the profitability of their activities, and disrupt their capacity to finance further criminal activity.

New Zealand’s existing Proceeds of Crime Act has had little success compared with overseas models. Between 1995 and July 2003, $8.84 million in assets was confiscated – including a record $3.7 million in 2003 – through 57 forfeiture orders. In comparison, New South Wales took $NZ84 over the same period. The new law will be an important tool in tackling gangs and organised crime.

No day goes by without thousands of calls being made to the New Zealand Police. Overwhelmingly the contacts between the Police and the public are positive – and it was certainly gratifying to see that the Tompkins Report on Counties Manukau did not find evidence of the sick culture which had been alleged. Early next year the Commission of Inquiry into Police Conduct will report. The government stands ready to support the Police in working through any recommendations which may come from the Inquiry.

No day goes by either, without a reminder of the work of the Police to comfort victims and their families, and to track down those responsible for crime. The rapid action to identify and then track down the suspected killer of a young woman visitor to our country shows the New Zealand Police at its very best.

Right now I am engaged in the negotiations which I hope will lead to another term in government. In that event, I will be looking to step up the dialogue between the government and the Police Association in the public interest. I know that the next Police wage round is not far away, and will need to be resolved.

My aim is to see the highest possible public trust and confidence in the New Zealand Police, and to see its integrity maintained as one of the most corruption-free Police services in the western world.

Thank you all for the work you do for New Zealand, and New Zealanders.

It is now my pleasure to declare this 70th Annual Conference of the New Zealand Police Association open.


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