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Cost-saving Efforts of the New Zealand Police: Opportunities for the United States

By Dr. Garth den Heyer, Chief Inspector, New Zealand Police Force

In late 2007, the United States suffered the worst economic and financial crisis in more than 70 years. This situation subsequently placed pressure on state and municipal budgets and has resulted in cuts to police agency budgets. The climate of austerity along with decreasing resources and greater public demand for police services has created an environment where police agencies need to examine their organizations with a view to decreasing costs while maintaining their level of service.

These problems are not new to policing and as countries around the world as well as the United States experience economic growth and contraction, police organizations need to be able to respond to the impacts of these changes on their budgets over time. One police service that U.S. police chiefs may look to for ideas on increasing agency efficiencies is the New Zealand Police. Since the mid-1980s the New Zealand Police has undergone significant change. These changes were both self-initiated and in response to a formal government review due to shifts in the governance and operational environment. Detailed below are the steps taken and lessons learned from the New Zealand National Police Force and how U.S. law enforcement agencies can use this information to help them address similar challenges.

The New Zealand Police

The New Zealand Police are a national police service and are responsible for the full range of law enforcement services and investigations from minor criminal offending and traffic enforcement, to major and organised crimes. The organization comprises approximately 9,500 sworn officers and 2,500 civilian employees and is structured to include a national headquarters and 12 districts. The districts are made up of 50 areas, which encompass more than 400 police stations. This structure reflects the devolution of management and operational responsibilities to the area level.

The Altered New Zealand Environment

Since 1984, New Zealand has implemented a radical series of economic and labor market structural and operational reforms that have been designed to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the public sector. These reforms were the most thorough in New Zealand’s history, and the changes ranked amongst the most radical and comprehensive undertaken anywhere in the world. The scope and the scale of these fundamental changes were remarkable, involving commercialization, corporatization, privatization, the restructuring of numerous government departments, the introduction of a new form of public financial management, major changes to industrial relations, and an attempt to provide a more responsive public service. Despite the drastic changes in order to achieve cost-saving efforts the below reforms were implemented within an extremely short timeframe. The key outcomes sought by government for all public offices were

  • a competitive labor market – to enable New Zealand to be internationally competitive; and
  • reduced government spending.

The machinery of government also underwent dramatic upheaval and change. The new police operating environment created by these reforms was characterised by

  • policy and advisor roles being separate from administrative and operational roles;
  • objectives stated in such a way that all parties providing public goods (for example, policing) and services were absolutely clear as to their role;
  • maximization of accountability;
  • competitive neutrality to minimise costs and to provide appropriate incentives and sanctions to enhance efficiency;
  • managers allowed to manage;
  • accrual accounting and private sector accounting and audit principles implemented;
  • focus moved from inputs to outputs and outcomes; and
  • privatization and outsourcing of some government services.

Owing to this change based on the economic theories of public choice and agency, New Zealand has been described as a laboratory for an experiment. This was due to the changes never having been undertaken anywhere in the world and involved the transformation of New Zealand’s welfare state into the world’s first post-welfare state.

The massive and sweeping government changes were encapsulated in the implementation of two pieces of legislation:

  1. The State Sector Act 1988; and
  2. The Public Finance Act 1989.

It was proposed that this legislation would provide the framework to allow better business techniques to be applied and would enable the funding and the measurement of agency services.

Much like the mandate championed by many in the United States the emphasis placed on the public sector was to do more with less, which required police managers to critique their structures, budgets and service delivery processes. There was also increasing pressure from the public for police to be more accountable for the use of public funds and to deliver better and more focused services. The citizens we serve budgets were decreasing and as a result, so were the public agencies. The New Zealand National Police were forced to respond.

What Did the Changes Mean for the New Zealand Police?

There were three fundamental principles of this state sector reform directly applicable to the New Zealand Police: setting clear objectives for operational managers, allowing managers to manage, and creating clear lines of accountability. The implementation of these principles, however, required police to provide a framework for establishing the separation of policy from operational issues.

The separation of policy from operations was to be achieved through the introduction of new public management in New Zealand, which focused on four key aspects:

  1. The first was a change in the relationship between the minister of police and the commissioner of police. The commissioner was made directly accountable to the police minister for the output and efficiency of the police.
  2. The second change was that the commissioner was given much greater discretion in the management of the police, with a shift of emphasis from budgetary inputs to operational outputs.
  3. Third, the output of service that the police produce would be distinguished from the outcomes or success in achieving social goals. This distinction was necessary for a more accurate assessment of police performance.
  4. The fourth and final change was to introduce a system of financial accountability that was based on accrual accounting and using input and output measures.

The basic thrust of the reforms was to improve the incentives for efficiency within the government sector. Much like the private sector business model a distinction between the service outputs an agency produces and the outcomes the government seeks to achieve, was central to these reforms. The police agency could no longer operate as a public sector agency had in the past with guaranteed funding and only a passing concern with efficiency and accountability. The approach arose from thinking about what is meant by the terms performance and accountability. In this changing environment, the performance of government agencies is judged on whether they produce the agreed service outputs, and whether they do so effectively.1

The New Zealand Police Response to the Changing Environment

The central feature of the reforms was the separation of the purchaser from the provider of the service. In other words, the government (the purchaser) was separated from the police (the provider of the service). To achieve this separation, the police budget, which had been previously funded via different funding streams, was integrated into a single fund for all police services.

In essence, the new financial regime was based on the government purchasing hours of the police organization’s time, but also included arrangements to cover capital expenditures in addition to normal operating costs. The police’s time was aggregated into 14 organizational outputs ranging from regulatory services and policy advice to responding to offenses and responding to nonoffense incidents.

The police, to ensure the implementation of the government reforms, instituted a number of processes and frameworks, which included corporate planning, strategic planning, new public management, performance measurement, organizational structure, and resource allocation.

Corporate Planning: A New Approach to Objectives and Outputs

The activity of the police was defined in terms of the tasks undertaken, and this range of tasks is bound by the scope of the law, the demands made by the community, and the resources available. This created a tautology for police when creating a basis for an efficient and effective organization. To counter this situation, police recognised that they had limited resources and that they needed to identify specific operational objectives.

This efficient approach to police service delivery required the following actions:

  1. define organizational objectives;
  2. specify outputs to meet these objectives;
  3. determine outputs—which should be a state monopoly and which are contestable; and
  4. develop a structure that facilitates reassessment of the first three steps.

The core objective of the police was defined as being a coercive (enforcement) function. However, it was also noted that the objective should also reflect an ability to deliver other services of a noncoercive nature when such services contribute to the effective and efficient performance of the core objective.

The police was not initially able to adopt an output-outcome model as proposed by the government because the police were not able to distil a comprehensive list of outputs in terms of police activities in a format that met the government monitoring requirement and that was compatible with the financial and management information systems.

As understanding of the core components and management of police service delivery increased, there was a shift away from the core enforcement outputs toward the core persuasive group of proactive policing outputs. Later, police moved from achieving individual outputs to achieving strategic outcomes, which are high level, but are supported by what is termed as impacts. For example, in 2010–11, the police had the following two strategic outcomes and impacts:

Outcome 1: Confident, safe and secure communities

  • Confidence in the police is maintained, and fear of crime and crashes is reduced.
  • New Zealand is seen as a safe and secure place in which to live, visit, and conduct business.
  • The public, especially victims of crime, expresses satisfaction with police service.

Outcome 2: Less actual crime and road trauma, fewer victims

  • Less harm results from crime, crashes, and anti-social behavior.
  • Vulnerable people are protected and safe.
  • The rate of increase in demand on the criminal justice system is abated.

Strategic Planning

In 1992, in response to both government reforms and a desire to improve policing effectiveness, police developed their first comprehensive five-year strategic plan. The plan was based on a private sector strategic planning model and defined the police’s mission, values, strategic goals, strategies, critical success factors, and a series of implementation programs. The overall vision of the police was to achieve “Safer Communities Together” through a series of 22 strategies that were to be implemented through community oriented policing.

The strategic plan was linked to both the government’s ten-year social and economic strategy and the annual business plan for the police. The business plan forms the basis for output negotiation and the financial appropriation from government.

The strategic plan took into account the major changes in technology and the increased resourcing constraints coupled with the demands for better performance and greater accountability. It also took into account the growing appreciation of the importance of working in partnerships with the community and other agencies and the recognition that police are only part of the broader public safety solution.

The results of the first strategic plan were traditional in the sense that there was a reduction in reported crime, a reduction in the road toll, and an increase in crime clearances.

The Policing Excellence Programme

In early 2008, due to a change of national government and the new government requiring the New Zealand Police to review their organizational costs, the police implemented the Policing Excellence Programme. This program comprised nine workstreams or initiatives that would enable police to be better placed in the future to deal with changing demands.

The initiatives or workstreams, were intended to increase service delivery effectiveness, free up resources and increase the use of technology to enable police to spend more time on serving their communities. The aim of the program was to facilitate the transfer of officer time from administration and compliance paperwork to working more with the public and victims.

The program provided a comprehensive framework for the implementation of the new, New Zealand Policing Model. This model positions prevention at the front of the policing business and places victims and witnesses at the center of responding. The approach is supported by continuous improvement in police external relationships, excellence in leadership and the development of staff.

Policing Excellence Programme Workstreams
Police Modelis a framework for redeploying the encapsulated programs’ benefits to crime.
Case Managementaims to achieve efficiencies in the methods police use to manage reports of crime.
Alternative Resolutionsdevelops alternative sanctions for low-level offending.
Rosteringincreases the number of police available for deployment at key times.
Crime Reporting Lineestablishes a national reporting channel for nonemergency crime.
Cost Recoveryexamines whether specific costs can be recovered for noncore police services.
Mobilityimproves the technology available to frontline police, ensuring staff safety.
Support Services to the Frontlineexamines how the police is utilizing its entire complement of staff.
Policing Act Opportunitiesexamines how support services are provided across the organization.


The government reforms since the mid-1980s, in conjunction with the rapidly changing social and economic conditions, concern about increasing crime, and increased public expectations have led the New Zealand Police to reassess its role, organizational processes, and structure. The aim of this reassessment was to ensure that the police had the capability and organizational processes to deliver the best possible community oriented policing service to meet both the government and community expectations.

Although the police has been able to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of its service delivery, what has become clear over time, is that due to conflicting demands, police cannot achieve all of the outcomes that the community and government require of the service. This has created challenges for police managers to balance their budgets and their resources, and suggests that outcome measurement alone is not a simple answer to assess the achievement of the delivery of police services (Moore and Stevens, 1991).2 It has also created the situation where the police need to continually examine their strategy, structures, resources and costs to identify better methods and processes which increase officer and organizational efficiencies and effectiveness. A commitment to continuous improvement is a must for all police organizations.

So, what does this case study mean for U.S. chiefs of police. There are nine points to consider when reviewing the governance of police agencies in a constrained environment:

  1. Identify desired achievements and outcomes at the agency or city level– these need to be agency specific but should also include desired organizational and strategic outcomes.
  2. Identify the agency mission, objectives, and desired performance–these are the reasons for the agency’s being and form the framework to achieve the outcomes.
  3. Identify agency outputs–these are identified annually and form the basis of what officers are to achieve.
  4. Link identified outputs to resources and budgets–an agency must be able to achieve the identified outputs with the available resources and funding.
  5. Review organizational structures, processes, and allocation of resources–an agency must be structured, have the appropriate processes, and hold the resources in the correct location to achieve the outputs.
  6. Review support and administration systems–are the current systems required to achieve the required outputs or can two areas be merged to increase efficiency?
  7. Look for continuous improvement across the agency–the process of identifying outputs, measuring performance, and reviewing processes does not stop; it is continual.
  8. Examine the justice sector for efficiency gains–can the achievement of outcomes be undertaken more efficiently by working with another police or justice agency?
  9. Identify methods for including technology in improving processes–technology is always changing, can new technology be used to increase the agency’s service delivery? ♦


1Jonathan Boston, “The Funding of Tertiary Education: Enduring Issues and Dilemmas,” in Redesigning the Welfare State in New Zealand: Problems, Policies, Prospects Jonathan Boston, Paul Dalziel, and Susan St. John eds. (Auckland, New Zealand: Oxford University Press, 1999).

2Mark H. Moore and Darrel W. Stephens, Beyond Command and Control: The Strategic Management of Police Departments (Washington, DC: Police Executive Research Forum, 1991).

Please cite as:

Garth den Heyer, "Cost-saving Efforts of the New Zealand Police: Opportunities for the United States," The Police Chief 79 (December 2012): 60–63.



From The Police Chief, vol. LXXIX, no. 12, December 2012. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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