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Firearms in Police vehicles, locked in the boot safe.

Options sought for access to firearms

Frontline police officers want more readily available access to firearms as soon as possible.

With the death of a colleague and other shooting incidents still fresh in their minds, delegates at this year’s Police Association conference made it clear that, for them, the time has come for Police to allow officers easier access to defensive firearms in the course of their duties.

While acknowledging that a change to Police policy “wouldn’t happen overnight”, the Waitākere Committee said in its submission to the conference that the current practice of locking firearms in police vehicles was problematic and must be reviewed.

“When you need a weapon, you are not able to access it readily so as to take immediate appropriate defensive measures for yourself or any other person to prevent death or grievous bodily harm,” the committee said.

Although the advent of firearms in vehicles in 2011 was welcomed as progress at the time, in practice, the paradox of having them under lock and key is starting to wear thin. As members often point out, with dark humour, “It’s not like you can ask an armed offender to stop and wait while you return to your car to get a firearm”.

The Waitākere Committee suggested that options such as locking devices with an electronic quick release, close to the driver and linked to a vehicle’s security system, should be considered.

The committee also challenged the “level of belief” required within the TENR assessment system for whether or not an officer should carry a firearm, saying it was “too high”.

They argued it should be a subjective, “gut-instinct” assessment, but still supported by TENR. “The level should be when a staff member believes that he or she is ‘likely’ to encounter a person who could cause grievous bodily harm or death.

“It is easier to carry the firearm and not require it, than to need it and not have it…and then have to tell some family member that one of our own, or a member of the public, is in hospital or dead.”

The committee also wants to make Police, as an employer, accountable under the Health and Safety at Work Act, which it said could require Police to allow staff to have defensive options immediately available.

It added that in any situation where police were involved in a firearms event, it should be the subject of a WorkSafe investigation, independent of any Police inquiry.

Motions to review TENR assessments and refer every firearms incident to WorkSafe were not approved by the conference delegates.

They did vote in favour of directing the association to enter discussions with Police on the need for staff to have readily available access to firearms.

The national office supports the need to discuss personal carriage with Police, as per the association’s policy of general arming, under the current Frontline Safety Improvement Programme, including:

  • The safety and wellbeing of frontline responders
  • The end-to-end tactical response model (except for Maritime and Dive Squad given their specialised and contained roles)
  • Frontline capability in reactive urgent settings
  • Public expectations regarding the carriage and use of weapons by police.

The association was also directed by delegates to ask Police to request a full independent investigation for every incident that involves the discharge of a firearm at a police member.

In the weeks since the conference, police vehicles have been shot at several times in two incidents in Northland.

Police Association president Chris Cahill is planning to meet WorkSafe representatives to discuss the criteria for its investigations as they might relate to police work.

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