Northland District Commander Superintendent Tony Hill is set to move to Canterbury. Photo / Michael Cunningham
Northland’s top cop has headed south after five years at the helm of the region’s police district.
Northland District Commander Superintendent Tony Hill has been appointed to the position of district commander Canterbury.
is looking forward to returning to where he both grew up and worked prior to his shift north.
Hill, who began his policing career in Whangārei more than 30 years ago, took the top job in Northland in 2018, saying he wanted all leadership teams in the district to be high-performing.
However, a police survey into workplace culture showed Northland staff had the lowest level of satisfaction in the force; only 22 per cent of participants believed police had no tolerance for workplace bullying or harassment.
Northland ranked the lowest of all 12 police districts in every surveyed question.
The Advocate reported in July last year frontline police in Northland were at “breaking point” as staff felt unsafe on shifts, and were frustrated by overwhelming workloads and too few officers.
The same month, business leadership experts from the Institute for Strategic Leadership were brought in to work with the police district’s senior leadership to improve workplace conditions. Their input is ongoing.
Assistant Commissioner Sam Hoyle said their involvement demonstrated Hill’s ongoing commitment to his statement five years ago.
“The investment in leadership development has been a feature of Superintendent Hill’s tenure in Northland across each of these five years, which also includes other initiatives such as sending his leaders on various police-supported development programmes.”
But an officer, who did not want to be named, said the situation still felt dire.
The job, already difficult because of the ground police were expected to cover, was made even more draining because “you’re walking around on eggshells” because of a “macho” culture, they said.
“I always wanted to be a police officer but now I tell anyone thinking of signing up to think twice and seriously consider is it worth it.”
They hoped a shake-up at the top would bring about positive change to the culture in Northland police.
Acting Assistant Commissioner Jill Rogers said the survey identified key areas for improvement that New Zealand Police would focus on.
The Advocate understands these included equality, team spirit, building trust, general leadership, and fairness.
“New Zealand Police is committed to improving culture by building trust and improving leadership through transparency, process improvements and good communication,” Rogers said.
Measures already taken included the creation of a culture plan; the establishment of a district governance rōpū, transformation board, and district development board; leadership training, and development and enhancements to tactical responses that aim to better frontline safety.
“The work to improve our culture doesn’t end with these initiatives,” Rogers said.
She noted the other areas being investigated and targeted across the whole organisation are: frontline safety, building a more fair and transparent appointment and promotion process, bolstering frontline resources; helping with development goals and innovative mentoring, improving the complaints process by recognising unacceptable behaviour and empowering people to speak up, and “transforming” the way information is shared.
But how will police know whether their actions affect positive change?
Rogers said they have the ability to conduct smaller and more focused “pulse check-in surveys” with staff to understand how they feel generally and around particular issues.
Police Association president Chris Cahill declined to comment when approached by the Advocate. However, he told Stuff the 2022 survey showed police needed to turn their attention to Northland.
He said there were not enough police in Northland given its size and vacancies were keenly felt.
An Official Information Act request revealed as of January 2 this year there was 405 sworn staff in the Northland District. The majority worked in Whangārei/Kaipara (128), followed by investigations (93), Far North (89), prevention (64), and district headquarters (31). At the same time, there were 15 vacancies specifically for sworn police staff.
Culture aside, Northland police – under the leadership of Hill – have been acknowledged by New Zealand Police for their role as a player in bringing about a significant change in the safety of frontline staff nationwide.
The district was a Proof of Concept District for the organisation’s Tactical Response Model, which paved the way for other districts.
Looking forward, Hill was enthusiastic about working with Canterbury police and continuing his focus on strong community relationships, particularly with iwi.
He is currently on a period of leave before beginning his new role. Inspector Dion Bennett (Ngāti Paoa and Ngāti Hako) is currently the relieving district commander in Northland.
The Advocate understands Bennett’s latest role before heading north was as acting Wellington district commander. He oversaw the police district during the fatal Loafer’s Lodge fire.
A police spokesperson said a recruitment process would get underway in due course to appoint a permanent replacement.