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Thursday, 8 March 2012 - 3:40pm

Traffic warnings on trial

3 min read

It has been another interesting and challenging fortnight for Police as an organisation and for me as Commissioner.  On the one hand I've visited Police stations to meet our frontline officers, and on the other I've been questioned about Police budgets by a Parliamentary select committee.

Firstly, something of great interest to motorists - particularly in Auckland. Starting on Monday, Police in the three Auckland policing districts are piloting the implementation of written traffic warnings for low-level driving offences. The idea is to find a better way of dealing with minor infringements than prosecuting people, which adds to the pressure on our already hard-pressed court system, or handing out $150 tickets. It's suggested written traffic warnings might be a suitable way of dealing with infringements of the "give way" rule when it changes later this month, and for other occasions where driver education is more appropriate than punishment. 

We've already piloted this initiative in Wellington but the results were inconclusive and it was felt more work was needed. It's hoped the new trial, which runs in Auckland City, Counties Manukau and Waitemata until August, will give us the information we need. If the pilot is a success, written traffic warnings will be rolled out nationally.

This initiative is the next stage of the Alternative Resolutions workstream of our Policing Excellence change programme. Written traffic warnings are the cousin of the pre-charge warnings we've been giving in place of charging and prosecuting people for minor offences. These have proved a great success, with 13,802 handed out in their first year. Each warning represents around an hour of officers' time saved, and a case diverted from the courts - in this case, a nationwide 8 percent reduction in minor cases being dealt with in court. It should be noted that someone dealt with by way of warning hasn't "got away with it". Should they err again the fact that they have been warned already will be taken into account, so we hope these warnings will have the effect of reducing levels of reoffending.

In keeping with my stated intention to be "out and about", last week I visited police stations at Shannon, Pahiatua, Eketahuna, Masterton and Carterton. This was followed by the solemn duty of attending the Carterton balloon tragedy memorial service. There was wonderful commentary about the professional and humane way Police members - alongside the other emergency services - dealt with those devastating circumstances.

I'm on the road again this week, visiting Gisborne, Wairoa and Nuhaka police stations today before heading to Auckland. This morning I attended a ceremony to mark the changing of the name of Gisborne policing area to Tairäwhiti. When I saw the proposal for this, and was assured it had the support of local communities, I had no hesitation in signing it off. This area is huge and some of the communities it includes are as close to Napier or Whakatane as they are to Gisborne. The name Tairäwhiti far better represents this area - it's a name people can relate to from Potaka in the north to Kotemaori in the south and is an example of how Police strive to reflect the aspirations of the communities we serve. The presence of many representatives of iwi and community organisations at Gisborne Police Station for the ceremony underlined how local communities have a sense of ownership of their local police and feel involved in our work. I have always said successful policing is a partnership between police and communities and it does us in the Police Executive good to see the reality of this philosophy in action. 

Finally, there is continuing political and media speculation over staffing issues involving Police, particularly in the context of yesterday's Law and Order Select Committee hearing. I'd like to reassure members of the public concerned by rumours of cuts to Police numbers. Far from cutting frontline services, my intention remains to move more constabulary staff to the front line and keep them there. As I have said over recent days in media interviews, right now no member of Police - constabulary or otherwise - need lose their employment with Police as a result of the current budget deliberations. In the meantime, no detailed decisions have been made and I have pledged to let my staff know when decisions are reached.