The Taxpayers' Union has voiced its consternation upon learning that the New Zealand police cannot determine how many people downloaded their $634,000 Virtual Cop app, designed to aid in police officer recruitment.
The organisations says that despite the high expenditure for the app, the actual impact and efficiency remains uncertain.
According to an Official Information request by the Taxpayers' Union, the NZ Police outlined that between 2018 and 2023, the Virtual Cop app was part of multiple marketing campaigns. These strategies succeeded in achieving the then government’s objective of recruiting an additional 1,800 police officers. Despite regular staff turnover, the period saw recruitment of over 4,350 constabulary employees. The Virtual Cop app formed a part of this campaign strategy, primarily utilising virtual reality (VR) to give users a simulated experience of serving as a police officer. The VR experience was mainly available at public gatherings and targeted face-to-face recruitment events. Speaking to this point, NZ Police said, "Experience shows that the majority of people want to become a police officer to make a difference in their communities. For many, it's a face-to-face conversation with a police officer that influences their decision to apply."
The app, under continued use today, was designed to encourage applications from aspirant police officers using a VR premise. Virtual Cop is also used as a long-term tool at community events to engage with the public, contributing to fostering trust in the NZ Police. Over three years from 2019-2021, approximately $634,000 was funneled into developing and producing Virtual Cop. The app, aimed at facilitating one-to-one interactions using VR equipment, was used in various events nationwide, including recruitment drives. The breakdown of expenses for the app revealed $315,000 for concept creation and development, $265,000 for developing new experiences, and $54,000 on equipment and hardware.
However, Taxpayers Union Campaigns Manager, Connor Molloy, expressed his discontent saying, "Despite spending hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars on the app, we have no way of knowing whether or not it was actually worth it." He continued to highlight the remarkable investment level allegedly warranted a quality and fun experience that unfortunately, some reviews suggest is lacking.
In a less-than-stellar critique titled "Boring", one user remarked the app had "probably some of the worst graphics I have ever seen", and was full of "stupid and boring mini-games". The review goes on to recommend others not to download the app, describing it as "a boring and trash game". Numerous evaluations conveyed similar dissatisfaction, indicating the game's potential subpar development and suggesting it as a misuse of taxpayer money. Concluding his comments, Molloy asserted that "a sense check is needed at the police with the number of overzealous campaigns focusing too much on investing money and not enough on catching criminals".