Extra cops won't boost prison numbers - Police Minister Stuart Nash

Putting extra cops on the street won't see more criminals put behind bars, but that's by design according to Police Minister Stuart Nash.

Labour and NZ First's coalition agreement included a promise to "strive" towards 1800 extra cops on the beat by the end of their first term.

Prison numbers are projected to rise above 12,000 by 2026, and the Ministry of Justice's own estimates say 1000 extra police will result in 400 extra people behind bars. Mr Nash disagrees.

"It may sound a little bit counter-intuitive, but more police out there actually means less people in prison. Because if you're preventing crime, if you're in your community you know who's mad, who's bad, who needs to be dragged in front of a judge - but also who needs to be given some sort of alternative dispute resolution process, then you can do that.

"When police are under-resourced and they're fighting fires, this is when crime rises in our communities."

The Government has promised to cut the prison population by 30 percent over 15 years.

"You have to look at over 30 years of justice reform, which has led to more people being criminalised, more people being sentenced to prison, serving longer sentences - is that doing anybody any good?" Justice Minister Andrew Little said in February.

Mr Nash said on Saturday reaching the target of 1800 new police officers means training 1000 new recruits a year, since 400 leave the force annually.

"We're on target to do 1000 since we became Government in that 12-month period," he told Newshub Nation.

"We're getting there, but the reason we said 'strive' is we realise 1000 is a lot and we're not prepared to drop the quality of recruits."

Mr Nash rejected claims made in a recent article in Police News, the magazine published by the Police Association, about lowering standards for recruits and a lack of discipline.

"The Commissioner of Police and myself have done a tour of all the districts - we've been to 11 of the 12 - and we had some senior officers actually stand up and say to us, 'We read this article, we refute it. The recruits we're getting are fantastic.' So I refute that.

"[Lowering standards] wouldn't be good for the men and women applying for the service, it wouldn't be good for the communities nor the police itself."

He also said he's confident the extra recruits won't overwhelm existing Police College facilities to train them all. Up to 350 new recruits currently graduate each year.

"We believe we can do it all through the Royal New Zealand Police College."

Of the 1800 new cops, he wants 1100 to go on the front line and 700 into "organised crime squads". Around 250 of the latter group will be unsworn officers with "very specific competencies around cyber crime, forensic accounting - frontline policing, but not as we know it - but 21st century".

He declined to say how the extra recruits are being paid for.

"The Budget comes out in about two weeks, and you'll know about it then… I'm happy to appear in two-and-a-half weeks' time and talk about it."

Mr Nash admitted he couldn't do anything to fulfil Labour's election promise of reopening police stations closed under the previous Government because it was an operational matter.

"I would like to say six months [until stations start reopening], but actually I have no power to direct the commissioner to do anything operationally… We've made it very clear we want these police to go into our communities in a way that makes our communities feel safe."

He also said he wasn't able to promise better pay for recruits in Auckland, where spiralling housing costs are driving many state employees on fixed incomes away.

"It's my job to ensure they have the resources to meet the promises they make to the community."

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