Right now police jobs are on the line while our Eastern District has the worst crime rates in the country.

We are told over and over that crime is coming down – but I think we are being hoodwinked by a numbers game.

The real story behind those lower ‘recorded’ crime figures has more to do with people, no longer reporting crime like they used to, for whatever reason.

But what’s telling is that despite the suggestion there is apparently less crime to solve, resolution rates remain at just under 50%.

A review of our Eastern Police District is ongoing and there is real concern that its focus is reducing staffing numbers to work within frozen budgets. Our district has 430 sworn staff, when our ratified number (which is population-based not crimebased) is 417. We have lost 36 general duty police officers in six years.

So how can we expect our police to do more, with less?

The days are numbered for all of the region’s community police stations in our towns and villages. Clive’s has shut, Havelock North’s could be next, Flaxmere is down to one community-based police officer, and there have been no replacements made for the three vacant community police jobs in Hastings.

The plan is instead to centralise all our police to new headquarters in Hastings and Napier and then send them out in teams on the beat.

Perhaps people should accept it as a sign of the times, that those once vibrant community police stations are now history. But just because something has become a victim of circumstance, doesn’t mean it’s right.

The biggest risk worrying me is our future generation will grow up disconnected from the police, who are doing their best to serve us. Police officers won’t be known positively as valued people living and working in our communities. It will be a uniform to fear – not trust.

And it’s for this very reason that people from across our communities are concerned and determined do something about it.

And believe me, we can, all you need to do is start from grassroots and build a groundswell of support. Because when the people start to move in numbers, those who have been elected to serve us get twitchy.

So when Ted Tolbeck called – asking me to help to try save Clive from losing its community constable after the local station closed without warning – I jumped in boots and all. I have huge respect for the police who are flat out trying to fight crime. They can’t be expected to fight for their jobs as well; they need us to do it for them.

I met up with Ted, along with Clive stalwart and retired district councillor Mary Hannan and Whakatu ‘mayor’ Des Ratima to see what we could do. The fiery Cape Coast campaigner Ann Redstone was already on the case and together we started the Hawke’s Bay Community Collective. We all agreed that the closure of a single police station was not the fight, but the catalyst for action.

Within three weekends – with a lot of door knocking and local shops offering to have a petition – we’ve now collected nearly 2,000 signatures (and the number is growing by the day) petitioning the Police to consult with the public before cutting staff numbers and shutting down more of our local community stations.

All we want is for them to talk to us first, to listen to what the public wants and to ensure we keep police in the heart of our communities.

Our plan is to keep the petition going and build our numbers so we can raise greater awareness because it’s not good enough that decisions which should be made in the public interest, like closing our community police stations, are done behind closed doors.

The public are being sold a message that we are apathetic, that we are too busy going about our everyday business to care about political decisions. But when it comes to things that really do matter – like keeping our children, our families and our neighbours safe – the public will rise up.

Eventually, I think those in power hope that people like us will go away. But they are underestimating the people who have joined the collective. It’s far more than a click to ‘Like’ a Facebook page – by signing the petition in person we are all calling for action and accountability, and we expect it.

What is frustrating though is that we have to then take our petition to five councils to get regional support.

It’s easier to make decisions for the whole region when you have one Hawke’s Bay voice, like the District Health Board. When you can lobby locally to those who have been elected to represent the whole of Hawke’s Bay with a mandate to make the best decisions in the interests of all our region. In the case of the DHB and health issues, that’s right from Wairoa to Central Hawke’s Bay – they are representing us, and accountable to all of us.

You saw this when our gutsy DHB took a stand against the Government’s Health Benefits company wanting to outsource our hospital food to an Auckland corporation and ship us down their frozen meals. Believe me, the board and management would have been under pressure to sign. But they did what was right for Hawke’s Bay, responded to local concerns, and said, ‘No way!’

Unfortuately, when it comes to things like police numbers, the decision is not at a local level. So instead we will have to get all five councils on board and convince our local leaders that fighting for our region’s police is the right thing to do. And then herd them to Wellington. Where I hope they will stand on the front line as a force to reckon with – united for our police and Hawke’s Bay.

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