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The backbone of any society’s law and order machinery lies within its police force. These men and women don the uniform, uphold justice, and safeguard the peace, often at great personal risk. But behind the badge lies a human being, one who deserves fair compensation, respect, and support from the very government they serve. The recent impasse between the New Zealand Police Association and the government regarding pay increases underscores a critical issue that cannot be overlooked.

In a nation where the spectre of violent crime looms large and shows no signs of abating despite the tough talking new coalition government, the importance of a well-equipped, physically and mentally healthy, and adequately compensated police force cannot be overstated. The promise of a crackdown on crime by the coalition government was met with optimism by many, but it appears that the reality on the ground is far from matching those expectations. While efforts to bolster police numbers are commendable, they are inevitably undermined by the concerning rate of attrition within the force.

New Zealanders are witnessing a troubling trend: seasoned officers, disillusioned and disheartened, are seeking opportunities elsewhere, particularly across the Tasman. Australia’s Northern Territories beckon with enticing relocation packages, reportedly up to $20,000, and substantially higher wages, creating a magnetic pull that New Zealand’s police force finds hard to resist. This exodus not only depletes the ranks but also saps the morale of those who remain, creating a vicious cycle that threatens to undermine the very fabric of law enforcement in the country.

The recent rejection of the government’s pay offer by the Police Association speaks volumes about the growing discontent within the force. Words like “insulting,” “demoralising,” and “farcical” paint a grim picture of the current state of affairs. It’s not just about the numbers on a pay slip; it’s about recognition, respect, and dignity for the sacrifices made every day in the line of duty.

The proposed $5000 increase to base wages, backdated to November last year, followed by a four per cent pay rise starting from July next year, falls short of addressing the pressing concerns voiced by the Police Association. When compared to the earnings of professionals in other fields with similar experience levels, the glaring disparity is undeniable. A six-year police constable earning $22,000 less than a nurse or social worker with equivalent tenure is not just a discrepancy; it’s a travesty of fair play.

Worse, the proposed four per cent pay increase fails to keep pace with inflation, further eroding the purchasing power of police officers already grappling with rising living costs. Inflation rates exceeding the proposed pay rise only exacerbate the financial strain faced by those tasked with upholding the law. It’s a slap in the face to those who put their lives on the line day in and day out, expecting nothing more than fair compensation for their dedication and service.

The repercussions of this deadlock extend far beyond mere monetary considerations. An unhappy and demoralised police force spells trouble for any country. It undermines public confidence in law enforcement, erodes community trust, and emboldens criminals. When those sworn to protect and serve feel undervalued and neglected, the consequences reverberate throughout society, breeding resentment and disillusionment.

There’s a real risk of a snowball effect as more officers contemplate leaving for greener pastures abroad. The potential loss of experienced personnel not only weakens the effectiveness of law enforcement but also places an additional burden on those left behind, exacerbating an already precarious situation.

It’s time for the government to heed the voices of its police force and take meaningful action to address their legitimate grievances. Fair pay, adequate resources, and a supportive work environment are not just lofty ideals but fundamental necessities for a functioning society. A nation’s strength lies in the well-being of its citizens, and neglecting those tasked with upholding the rule of law imperils the very foundation upon which a civilized society stands. The time for action is now, before irreparable damage is done to the fabric of New Zealand’s law enforcement and the safety of its people hangs in the balance.

First appeared in the Indian Weekender of 14 March 2024