Sergeant Phil Grimstone, Ōtaki’s new officer in charge, is no stranger to the town.
He grew up in Levin and spent three of his 15 years with the police force at the Ōtaki station. There were also six years based at Paraparaumu, and he was promoted to sergeant in Levin in 2012. For the past three years he’s headed the Horowhenua Family Harm Team.
It’s no surprise then, that Phil is keen to tackle some of the problems afflicting the families of Ōtaki, especially the growing prevalence of methamphetamine (“P”) abuse.
“I don’t know that it’s a bigger problem here than in other small towns, but it is a problem and we need to deal with it,” he says. “Drug abuse leads to other dishonesty offending, because that funds the addiction.”
Without drugs, he believes other offending would be reduced significantly.
So how does a small-town police force deal with the drug problem? Phil believes it’s a social issue that needs to be addressed jointly by the community and police.
“We can’t arrest our way out of this problem. We need the support of the community, social agencies and iwi.”
Foresaking the “big stick” approach, one of Phil’s focuses is on promoting alternative resolutions to court and convictions. These offer offenders a good chance of rehabilitation and often result in better long-term outcomes. It includes referring offenders for low-level offences to the local Raukawa Whānau Ora, and young traffic offenders to driver training programmes such as Te Ara Tika.
Phil is saddened by the statistics for family harm in the Horowhenua area, of which Ōtaki is part. The area has the second-highest rate of “intimate partner violence” in New Zealand. The effect on children is devastating.
“Eighty percent of youth offenders first contact with the police is through witnessing family violence in the home,” he says.
It’s clear that Phil is sometimes frustrated with social media comments about how the police “do nothing” in the face of crime.
“The challenge for the community is that our response [as police] is only as good as the information the community provides. It has to be credible, reliable and corroborating, which allows the police to target offenders by executing search warrants and so on.”
He says information can be provided anonymously, and using Crime Stoppers is a good alternative, but it makes a big difference if someone is prepared to speak to police face-to-face and put their signature to an allegation. He can provide assurance of complete anonymity
The Ōtaki station has six public safety officers, and two highway patrol officers are based at the station. Flexible shifts ensure officers are available through most 24-hour periods, and the larger Levin station provides support when needed. A front line support officer is available from 9am-3pm during the week (press the buzzer if the door is locked).
Ōtaki comes under the Manawatū area of the Central Police District, and extends from South Manakau Road in the north to Peka Peka Road.
Phil replaces Slade Sturmey, who has transferred to an instructor posting at the Royal New Zealand Police College in Porirua.