Internal blunder and division among police top brass behind failure to announce scrapping of cannabis operation

Stuff 11 March 2021
The scrapping of the police’s annual cannabis eradication operation was not conveyed to frontline staff or the public because of an internal blunder and division among top brass.

An official decision to ditch Operation Piano – which involved officers taking to the skies in helicopters and planes each year to find illicit back country plantations – was made in November.

However, nothing was announced to frontline staff, the police minister, or the public until Stuff revealed the move in January, despite calls from a senior manager behind closed doors to “front foot” the move.

Police Minister Poto Williams told Stuff on Wednesday she was “disappointed that police were not more proactive in communicating this”, and that she had raised her concerns to Police Commissioner Andrew Coster.

National’s police spokesman Simeon Brown said the decision was a “shambles from top to bottom” and that he would have been “furious” to have been kept out of the loop if he were police minister.

“The reality is that what was being made here were some decisions which had political elements to them and huge implications with the referendum still under way at the time.”

Documents released to Stuff under the Official Information Act reveal district crime managers across the country supported keeping the operation going, while the 12 district commanders did not.

In 2019/20, $4.5 million of cash was recovered, 73,000 cannabis plants, 30,000 grams of meth, 36 clan labs were found and there were 665 arrests.

More than 300 firearms were also found, while police recovered 100 kilograms of cannabis.

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