By ROBYN BRISTOW
“If you need a hand, give me a whistle”.
This is the catch phrase of a new police initiative which will be launched in North Canterbury this month and nationwide next year.
Police will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with farmers at stock and machinery sales and rural events, as in days gone by, and hand out shepherds whistles to reinforce the message.
The initiative will kick off at the Glenmark Lamb sale on November 22 and will become Canterbury-wide and eventually nationwide in a show of support for farmers under pressure from weather events, stock rustling and thefts and facing health related issues such as stress.
Senior constable Craig Newman of Amberley says an opportunity was identified for the police to increase rural community support and assist with the prevention of rural crime such as stock and farm equipment thefts, farm accidents and rural mental health, particularly suicide.
Constable Newman, who has built a working relationship with Hazlett Livestock Ltd and the North Canterbury Rural Support Trust, says the initiative also aims to improve communication between rural communities and police and increase trust and confidence.
The ‘If you need help, give us a whistle’ is seen as building on the popularity of the Police Tractor at field days which has been “a great avenue” to start conversations with the rural community around prevention activities.
“Police are partners in the rural community and passionate about rural folk and rural issues.
“Rural police are problem solvers and well connected with local support services and absolute confidentiality can be assured,” says Constable Newman.
“This initiative will further conversations already started and drill down to the farmers themselves in a targeted way to get our message directly to those involved in an unfiltered manner.”
Constable Newman says the relationship with Hazlett Livestockm Ltd and the NC Rural Support Trust, would help police to engage with the community.
“Traditional community values are still present in rural policing and strengthening partnerships is the way forward,” he says.
Police will work alongside Rural Support Trusts, while an auctioneer at the sale will introduce police members and explain the key message points.
Constable Newman says the downturn in the profitability of dairying in recent years and a significant period of drought in eastern areas had increased stress on rural-based New Zealand families and incidents of mental health and family harm incidents often went unreported.
“The need to engage in rural-based prevention activities has never been higher.”
He says depression is an increasing issue in rural communities and rural-based families featured highly in suicide and preventable death statistics.
Barriers to rural folk seeking help often included perceived confidentiality issues within their community, financial pressures, historical family influences and fear of losing face.
“The impact of crime can also leave rural families more victimised.
“Isolation issues, limited income and employment options leave them vulnerable and less able to recover.”
Crime prevention approaches used in metropolitan areas were often not appropriate for rural communities and the police brand alone had not always engaged rural communities.
Rural people could also be sceptical of outsiders and government agencies but opened up and showed incredible support and loyalty when this was overcome.
“They will be the first to back the police and inherently understand the meaning of community and want the best. “Their goals and objectives are often the same as those of the police so great things can be achieved by working better together.
“This initiative directly supports our commitment to the public to be safe and feel safe,” says Constable Newman.
Hazlett Livestock Ltd general manager Ed Marfell says the North Canterbury Stock and Station Agents Association supported the initiative and the opportunities it would give the “boys in blue” to support rural communities.
He said Constable Newman felt that the connection between the police and the rural communities had slipped from what it had been in days gone by and it was “important” to step it up. Stock and machinery sales offered a great opportunity for that to happen as farmers gathered for these types of events.
Rural Support Trust chairman Doug Archbold says the trust “enthusiastically supports” the initiative, “especially in light of the prevalence of rustling” in rural areas.