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Grieving colleagues at a blessing ceremony for Constable Matthew Hunt. Photo: NZ HERALD

Grief and support

Last month, 28-year-old Constable Matthew Hunt became the 33rd New Zealand police officer to be killed in the line of duty. The fact that he was gunned down during a traffic stop, the likes of which happen daily nationwide, has struck a powerful chord with Police Association members and led to outpourings of grief and sympathy from within New Zealand and around the world.

Police officers should ring home from work more and text their kids more, says Police Association president Chris Cahill.

Officers needed to be aware that family anxieties would be heightened following the death of Matthew Hunt last month. They could ease that by keeping in touch more when they are at work, to let their loved ones know they are safe.

“Cops tend to underestimate the impact this has on families,” he says. “Serving members will be at work, doing something and they’ve got some control over what’s happening. But their families – parents, partners and children – will be worrying about their safety.”

Chris described a variety of different responses Police staff were having to the death of the young constable who was shot in Massey, West Auckland, on the morning of Friday, June 19, during a routine traffic stop. Another officer was also shot in the incident. Two people have been arrested, one charged with murder and attempted murder, and the other as an accomplice.

Members were feeling grief, particularly those who had worked with him, such as the public safety teams at Orewa, where Matthew spent most of his short police career, and the impairment prevention team at the Harbour Bridge Station, where he had been working for just two weeks when he died.

Across the wider membership, the death triggered memories for staff who had experienced previous loss of colleagues. Chris was attending a Hawke’s Bay Police Association annual committee meeting in Hastings when the news broke.

The event “brought it all back” for staff who had experienced the last slaying of a police officer – Constable Len Snee in 2009.

Many staff around the country were thinking about what might have helped prevent the latest tragedy. “They’re thinking about access to firearms and the severe risks criminals with firearms pose to them. They want answers around that, which is understandable,” Chris said.

“We will want to look at all the circumstances and say: what of the various tactical options available, such as ARTs or general arming, would have, or could have, made a difference? When we understand that, we will be clearer on the position we will take on the need for further change.”

He spent the weekend in Auckland with the aim of being visible to as many of the affected staff as possible to reassure them that they had “wraparound support”, not only from Police management but also the association and its welfare fund.

Staff he saw included the investigation team of upwards of a 100, including the armed offenders squad and family liaison staff.

He commended the “outstanding work” of the two officers who caught the alleged offender.

Chris also visited Matthew’s mother, Diane, at her home in Warkworth. Adding to the family’s distress were the Covid-19 quarantine requirements that meant family members returning from overseas, including Matthew’s sister, uncle, aunt and father, were sent to an isolation facility in Rotorua.

“We lobbied for them to be able to form a bubble of their own in Auckland, and that’s now happened,” Chris says.

A Givealittle page set up by a fellow officer to raise funds for the families affected by the shooting had received $47,392 by late June. The money will go to the Police Families Charitable Trust, which last month had also received an additional $38,500 for Matthew’s family and the family of the officer who was injured.

Chris visited Matthew’s police partner in hospital. He was shot through the leg in the incident and has since been released from hospital. “He was really struggling with a mix of emotions – relieved to be alive and with his wife and kids, but also feeling guilt that he’d lost his colleague, and wondering what he could have done differently. That unwarranted second-guessing is a hard place to be.”

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