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Cited as a "life saver" at the climax of the Parliament protests earlier this year, sponge rounds could become an effective tool for officers facing violent subjects.

Delegates at the annual conference endorsed a motion from the Taupō Area Committee for the Police Association to campaign to introduce a sponge round capability into every frontline supervisor’s vehicle.

The committee noted that police were dealing with almost daily incidents where they needed a longer range, less lethal response such as eXact iMpact XM1006 40mm rounds.

Those involved in offending that required police attendance were aware of the limitations of tactical options and the fact that police staff would rather not use firearms.

“They know that we have Tasers at 4.5m and then firearms next, in most circumstances. Frontline staff have nothing available between Taser and firearms,” the committee said in its report to the conference.

“While the Taser has a range of 4.5 metres, sponge rounds can be deployed effectively out to more than 30 metres – optimal distance for deployment is between 5m
and 25m.

“Frontline staff are putting themselves at serious risk by having to get within range to deploy the current available tactical options and desperately seek a safer option.”

Sponge rounds are currently used only by AOS and STG to incapacitate an assaultive, non-compliant subject. They commonly cause bruising rather than any significant or long-lasting injury.

The rounds supplement other options such as the use of dogs, OC spray and the Taser.

Having frontline staff able to deploy with sponge rounds “is likely to resolve incidents in a timelier manner, with a lower use of force. It will enhance staff safety and, at times, will remove the necessity for police staff to get too close to violent and assaultive subjects”, the committee said.

Hamilton officer Senior Constable Derek Lamont told Police News earlier this year that the use of sponge rounds by STG and AOS members had turned the tables on the remaining hard core of agitators at Parliament on March 2. “I thought we were going to lose. I was preparing myself to get a kicking. Then … I saw three men in black … I thought, I hope I know what they are going to do and then they released the 40-millimetre [sponge] rounds.”

It gave officers time to regroup, Derek said, before they successfully dispersed the remnants of the protest.

National controller Assistance Commissioner Richard Chambers said at the time that the “tactical option was necessary and proportionate … if they had not been used, police would have been overrun by violent and aggressive protesters”.

Police Commissioner Andrew Coster echoed those views when he spoke to delegates at the conference. Sponge rounds were a very effective tactic that “changed the course” of the protest, he said.

He said that making sponge rounds available to Tactical Prevention Teams was being considered, but he did not believe they would be available to every frontline officer.

The Taupō committee added a reminder that previously Tasers could only be used if an NCO gave permission, but now they are carried whenever officers deploy.

Take it or sick leave it?

In the coming months, the Police Association plans to canvass its Police employee members on the need for their own sick leave bank.

Delegates at the annual conference voted in favour of surveying non-sworn staff to find out if they want a sick leave bank along the lines of the one introduced for constabulary members in the 1981.

The bank provides additional paid sick leave to constabulary members who find themselves with insufficient sick leave to cover extended absences due to ill health. It is funded by a periodic drawdown of personal leave from eligible staff, creating a “bank” of sick leave.

Eligible members must apply for the extra leave through a committee.

The association’s Waitakere Committee, which is seeking to have the bank concept extended to non-sworn members, says exclusion from the benefits of the bank creates anxiety and stress for those with long-term and potentially life-threatening illnesses.

“Police employee members rush to return to work simply to pay the bills. Covid has shown us all that long-term illnesses are just a sneeze away.”

The committee has suggested that Police create a merged sick leave bank to cover all staff. The association says that would require consent from constabulary members and notes that in 2009, Police employees‘ sick leave usage was only about half a day more per year than constabulary members.

Surveying staff would provide some context around any decisions.

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