‘We’re not coping’: Police resources stretch as Omicron moves in

With a wave of Omicron infections hitting New Zealand, police are stretched thin and Covid-19 cases among those on the front lines will mean a series of inquiries must be penned to ensure the staff is available to answer calls to 111.

Hundreds of the country’s more than 10,000 police officers have been diverted from their regular duties to help with Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ) facilities and monitor protest activity in Wellington, while dozens more are in work stoppage because they chose not to be vaccinated.

Things understands that a handful of frontline North Island staff have been hit by Covid in recent days, forcing some of their colleagues into self-isolation.

Police officers from across the country were flown to Wellington at short notice to help police the protest.

LAWRENCE SMITH / Stuff

Police officers from across the country were flown to Wellington at short notice to help police the protest.

There are delays in the investigation of crimes such as family abuse, assault, burglary and robbery across the country, and sources say the situation will only get worse in the coming weeks as that Omicron sweeps the community.

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“It’s awful. I know managers who are stressed to the max,” said a veteran police officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Things this week.

Front-line resources were as strained as the officer had seen in his decades of service.

“We are under enormous pressure. There is no way out. »

LAWRENCE SMITH / Stuff

Police Commissioner Andrew Coster announces protesters’ cars will be towed around the beehive.

Police Association President Chris Cahill said the pandemic “has been going on for a long time now…and so there is real pressure on the police to keep them operating as normal”.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt that the service around investigations and minor offenses is going to take a back seat [due to Omicron] but we have to make sure we have enough police to respond to serious emergencies.”

Cahill said Australian officials had predicted up to 20% absenteeism among police at the height of Omicron, but the use of rapid antigen tests to test staff considered close contacts daily, so they didn’t have to self-isolate, ultimately meant that number was much lower.

The availability of rapid tests for police in New Zealand would be key to ensuring officers are available to respond to 111 calls around the clock in the coming weeks, he said.

As daily cases of Covid-19 in the community approach 1,000, the government moved into phase two of its response to Omicron at 11:59 p.m. Tuesday.

In phase two, Covid responders, such as police, who are asymptomatic close contacts of a confirmed case, will be able to work if they undergo daily rapid tests and return negative results.

Police Association President Chris Cahill said rapid antigen testing is key to ensuring police can respond to 111 calls.

Rosa Woods / Stuff

Police Association President Chris Cahill said rapid antigen testing is key to ensuring police can respond to 111 calls.

In a statement, Superintendent Russell Le Prou, the police’s director of Covid resilience, said police were “experienced in responding to critical events” and had anticipated Omicron’s arrival.

The rapid tests would be part of “a series of checks that we will use to help protect our staff and the community”.

Initially, they would be made available to essential police personnel who were in close contact with a confirmed case, so that they could continue to work, Le Prou ​​said.

As part of their Omicron planning, the police had considered which “basic services” should be prioritized “in case our workforce is disrupted”.

He wouldn’t say what those services were for “operational reasons.”

An email from a lead detective to a Christchurch burglary victim last month, obtained by Thingsreveals the pressure exerted on the police in certain parts of the country before Omicron’s arrival.

There are delays in investigating crimes such as burglaries because police resources have been diverted elsewhere.

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There are delays in investigating crimes such as burglaries because police resources have been diverted elsewhere.

In the email, the detective apologizes to the victim, saying the deployments of personnel at MIQ facilities, coupled with several major incidents and homicides in the city, had “stretched the police’s ability to investigate on complaints like yours as quickly as we would like”. .

“Due to these incidents, we have a backlog of burglaries and vehicle thefts that we are working on. This is not ideal, and I fully understand and acknowledge any frustration you may have.

The email ends by thanking the complainant for “your understanding during this difficult time”.

Since then, the grounds of Parliament have been swarmed with people protesting the vaccine mandate and other government controls of Covid-19, and hundreds of police from across the country have been told to come to Wellington at short notice to help.

Police declined to reveal the number of officers signed up to monitor the protest in an operation dubbed Operation Convoy, but Things learned it was about 200 a day.

A further 230 staff are deployed to MIQ’s 33 facilities nationwide, while 101 unvaccinated staff have been given “termination notices” or taken unpaid leave.

Demonstrations planned elsewhere in New Zealand later this week, such as in Christchurch, are expected to result in a further drain on police resources.

Police Minister Poto Williams was unavailable for an interview about the pressures facing the police.

In a statement, she said: “Over the past two years, the police have continued to do their job during the Covid-19 pandemic, and I am confident that they will now adapt to the Omicron environment.”