The Minister for Police says she remains confident the Government's recruitment goals will be met, despite the public sector pay freeze.
The Government this week said for the next three years, no one in the public service on more than $100,000 will get a pay rise. Anyone earning between $60,000 and $100,000 will have to prove "exceptional circumstances" to get a raise.
Graduate police officers start on $61,000, according to the Government's careers website - meaning they too will likely go without a pay hike until 2024 at the earliest.
Appearing on Newshub Nation on Saturday, Police Minister Poto Williams said she was limited in what she could say because the Police Association - which represents the police workforce - had just gone into pay negotiations.
"We're wanting to support those at the bottom end of the public service who have worked really hard and really deserve to be supported in terms of pay," Williams told host Tova O'Brien.
"But for the rest of us, it is time for us to look at ensuring we deal with the issue of COVID - and that's the cost to the country. So we are asking our better-paid public servants to take up this pay restraint. We're looking at those who earn the least."
The Government's successful COVID-19 response was costly, borrowing tens of billions of dollars. The silver lining is our debt remains low by international standards, and interest rates are negligible.
Police Association president Chris Cahill said the pay freeze was "absolutely rejected by the association as it in no way demonstrates the ability of a government to bargain in good faith".
"For police officers the freeze comes when their work on the frontline of keeping all New Zealanders safe is becoming demonstrably more dangerous. Calls for mental health and suicide-related emergencies are growing, family violence callouts are up 11 percent year-on-year for the past four years, gang numbers are at an all-time high and organised crime is at such a peak $1 billion in assets have been seized in the last decade, and the threat and/or use of firearms are now almost a daily occurrence in policing."
One officer told Newshub Nation: "We've put our f***ing bodies and families at risk to keep the country safe during COVID. Nobody is happy here. We feel like undervalued coalface workers. Morale is low."
Williams said police officers could still get pay rises by stepping up "through the ranks".
"The police do, every single day, put themselves on the line for each and every one of us and I want to thank them for the work that they do. But... our focus and direction is on those who are earning the least."
The Government set a goal of hiring 1800 new police officers, over and above attrition. The figure is currently 1400, Williams said, and she expects the goal to be met by the end of this term in 2023.
She said far more women and minorities are joining the force than in the past. One graduation she went to, more than half the recruits were women - who have historically been paid less than men for doing the same jobs.