An extra 67 police officers will be hitting Central District streets over the next four years.
This will boost the total number of sworn officers to 740 in the region, which includes Manawatu, Taranaki and the Central Plateau.
Wednesday’s announcement comes as part of a nationwide $388 million investment that will result in an extra 880 officers and 245 non-sworn staff in New Zealand over four years from July.
About 220 additional recruits will be added each year.
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Four stations in the Central District – Taumarunui, Stratford, Waipukurau/Dannevirke and Marton – will become 24/7 response bases.
Taumarunui and Waipukurau/Dannevirke will be upgraded in 2018-19, followed by Stratford in 2019-20 and Marton in 2020-21.
Earlier this year, the NZ First political party expressed scepticism about the Government’s plans, suggesting officers may end up in Auckland instead of rural areas.
The Government’s plans also came on the heels of a separate restructure by Central District police. Those plans were being worked through last year and concern had been expressed in towns such as Feilding and Marton about lack of resources devoted to rural areas.
Police Commissioner Mike Bush said they had carefully considered where the additional 880 staff should go and where they would make the most difference.
“Our allocation model has taken into account changing crime patterns, increased demand and population growth.”
The changes are expected to strengthen the 24/7 police presence to an additional 35,000 people in Central District.
The upgrades are being made in an effort to meet a target of having 95 per cent of New Zealanders living within 25 kilometres of a 24/7 police base by 2022.
“We recognise that our regional communities have different pressures and concerns and feel safer if they know a 24/7 police response service is nearby,” Bush said.
“All of this makes police more accessible and more visible so that we can be where people need us, when they need us.”
District commanders would now consider where new staff would be best placed within their districts, he said.
Central District commander Superintendent Sue Schwalger said it was great news for rural communities.
“We understand and appreciate the value local communities place on their police service.”
Schwalger said the direct investment in rural policing recognised that those communities had different pressures and concerns.
The investment would improve the ability of staff to help build safe, resilient rural communities.
“This investment provides further opportunity for police to address pressures and expand on the work already being done to make New Zealand the safest country.”
Schwalger said the police had “fundamentally transformed” their model.
“We are now one of the most mobile police services in the world where frontline staff are equipped with the tools and technology they need to spend more time in their communities, where they can make the most difference.”
A rural duties officer network is set to be formed to ensure police would focus on rural issues, she said.
It would also allow police to build strong local networks and support communities.
Police Minister Paula Bennett said people would benefit from knowing there was an officer available around the clock.
“All New Zealanders deserve to feel safe in their homes and communities.
“I’m confident having additional resources in these areas will provide a better policing service for regional New Zealand.”
Bennett said she looked forward to seeing more recruits going through Police College “so we can get these officers on the beat”.