Frustration in Waipa at centralised Police

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By Hunter Calder

Criminal activity in the Waipa District is on the increase, with more than four ram-raids in the region within the last month.

And there's growing concerns that criminals are moving south, targeting smaller communities - with the knowledge that fewer police officers are around.

Michael Waters and his brother Richard own Stirling Sports in Te Awamutu, their store has been ram-raided twice since the beginning of the year.

Michael Waters says on both occasions police responded almost immediately, but he's worried criminals are picking up on the fact that police presence is sometimes stretched because they have to service such a large region.

"We're starting to see an increase in the rural type of offences is because of the fact that they know that there's only generally one car, two officers available. So it makes it a lot easier for them (criminals) to be in and out and gone, and I mean if they (criminals) can distract them (police) somewhere else it makes it even easier."

Mayor of the Waipa district Jim Mylchreest says it is a widespread sentiment amongst his constituents - who don't believe police have the resources to support the Waipa district.

"Individually the police officers are fantastic, but the real problem that the Waipa community has is that the new (police) hubs that are being set up around the country mean that particularly after hours it's difficult for members of the public to actually contact the police."

Mr Mylchreest says when police are encouraging people to support community patrols and encouraging councils to put more surveillance there's a clear sign that police are stretched and unable to cope.

Sharlene Campbell has owned menswear store Campbell Lane in Te Awamutu for ten years and says some elderly people and business owners have been living in a state of concern ever since the ram-raids started.

"There's just the uncertainty, are they (police) going to come, who do we ring, do we have to start doing calls through shopkeeper to shopkeeper to help look after each other."

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While she says police have responded to burglaries at her store in the past, she's worried things may change if police numbers in the community decline and she believes keeping "police on the beat is the only way", to ensure everyone stays safe and has peace of mind.

Former police officer Darryl Nix is part of the volunteering team CommSafe - a community patrol group keeping an eye on the streets day and night in Te Awamutu.

Mr Nix says having more police on the ground would be beneficial but there are times when the police are on other jobs and cannot respond instantly - and Commsafe are there as extra support to guard scenes and keep an eye on the streets whilst being a deterrent to trouble makers.

"There are times when our community patrols are there filling the gap, but at the same time we do have a very good relationship with the police here, many a time we have called them because we have seen something, and they're there within minutes."

Police Minister Paula Bennett says the Government has already committed to 140 more officers in 20 regional police station 'hubs.'

That will mean 95 percent of the population will be living within 25 kilometres of a 24/7 police presence.

But Mayor Mylchreest wants more police living in communities - not half an hour's drive away.

"We feel that if the police are part of our community, they live here they work here they know where the ratbags are, they know the community and have got a head start I suppose in investigating complaints. So there are, in our view, real advantages in having the police based locally."

Mayor Mylchreest says he will continue to lobby for a change to the Government strategy of 'regional' police hubs.

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