A long-standing voluntary group who help at the Arrowtown cop-shop are disbanding due to clamps on their operation.
The 25-strong Arrowtown Police Volunteer Group has served the community and growing numbers of visitors for more than 23 years.
But it has now fallen victim to new police policy on station security.
Volunteers can now only man the station while a uniformed cop is present – and that presence has been whittled down to three hours a week.
Explaining the group’s decision to pull the plug this coming Monday, administrator Bob Farrell says those hours are allocated randomly, according to the community cop’s other duties.
“It’s been so ineffective and so difficult to plan that we’ve just given up.”
If during those hours the cop wants to pop out, “we had to turn the lights out, close the curtains and lock the door”.
Farrell, a volunteer since 2004, says “it stinks”.
“It’s a system that we’ve got no say in, at all.
“In the 23 years we’ve been going, we’ve never had anything happen.”
Farrell says the group’s put forward ideas to bolster station security, like boulders to stop ram-raiding vehicles, an electronically-operated door lock to prevent undesirables entering and back-door emergency access.
“We were categorically told that it wasn’t acceptable, that it didn’t comply with the national scheme of things.”
Farrell says his group originally manned the station Monday to Friday, six hours a day.
“We became a trusted and respected contact point between members of the public and New Zealand police.”
They dealt with a large variety of problems, “real and imagined”, he says.
Those included firearms queries, dangerous driving reports, missing children searches, and lost and found items.
Volunteers also cleaned the station, largely at their own cost, and monitored the business community’s CCTV system.
“One of the things that police were pushing for years was being a face around the community.”
A community cop used to visit the station daily, Farrell says.
“We are saddened by the need for this decision and can only hope that some time in the future the nationally-perceived security issues will be resolved and Arrowtown can once again have a community police station manned by a dedicated and conscientious group of volunteers.”
Local mayor Jim Boult says he has sympathy for the volunteers – “they’ve done a sterling job” – and also hopes there’ll be some way for them to return.
“That said, police have told me Arrowtown has the lowest crime rate in NZ.”
Local area commander Olaf Jensen confirms in an emailed statement that a front counter safety project has been implemented across the country.
Where it’s impractical or not justifiable to implement new security features, like one/two-person stations or premises mostly staffed by volunteers, “public access to the station will be possible only when an on-duty constabulary staff member is present”, he says.
“Those locations will have signage clearly identifying alternative ways of contacting police.”
Jensen also stresses that police are out in the community 24/7.
On the Arrowtown situation, he says: “We feel for our volunteers, and believe that their contribution to policing has been extremely valuable, and are pleased that they wish to return when the health and safety concerns are addressed.”