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President's column: Our reality

The tragic death of our colleague Matthew Hunt has affected us all, and is bound to have an impact on our families.

It is a tragedy that we should never have to endure right here in Aotearoa, but unfortunately it is our reality.

Many frontline officers would say it was just waiting to happen, and I cannot agree with them more.

Our determination to protect our communities has been recognised in the outpouring of support for officers throughout the country. Matthew’s killing is a heart-breaking reminder of how dangerous this job can be, so I am extremely reassured by messages, vigils and generous donations that have come from people from every walk of life wanting to do whatever they can in recognition of what is truly, our collective loss.

Such a community response should give us the confidence to know that most Kiwis have our backs. They want to support us and work with us. They know that without a strong blue line turning up 24/7 to deal with the tough stuff, to protect and to respond to the risks and the tragedies, everyone will be worse off.

In very recent times, we have seen the development of what must be called out as a false equivalence between policing in New Zealand and, regrettably, the appalling actions of some police officers in other parts of the world. The association has no intention of standing by and letting this become the narrative for how you, our members, are seen to do your job – one that we have once again been reminded can demand of you the ultimate price.

I hear your utter dismay at the grandstanding and the mud-slinging accusations of racism and discrimination being thrown at you and your colleagues. I have read your emails, listened to your messages, and spoken with you throughout the annual meetings up and down the country. The Black Lives Matter movement is legitimate and one we all need to take notice of. Simply transposing it onto our political and policing landscapes is not legitimate, and we cannot let police be used as the stage on which a small minority raise their personal profiles.

Don’t, for one moment, think this has not affected our families too. I have listened to a member tell me about the difficulty of explaining to their young daughter that police officers are not racist and don’t just go out and shoot Māori. Yet that is what this little girl had been told at school and, quite naturally, she brought her worry home.

Surely, if it has come to this, we are bound to speak up and have every right to expect Police leaders and responsible politicians to publicly defend the men and women who are holding together that blue line.

In this column, I am determined to not politicise Matthew’s death. I gave his mother, Diane, a guarantee that the loss of her son is not the time to play politics over general arming of police.

So, I am not playing politics, I am speaking directly to you, the association’s members.

We cannot ignore that on June 19 the threat of firearms in the hands of criminals was once again lethal, and there for all New Zealanders to see. As a country we cannot ignore the basic right police officers have to be protected when they go to work. Every day. Every night. The two scenarios cannot be separated.

We do need to have a debate on whether it is time for general arming, but out of respect for Matthew’s mother and family, that debate can wait a little while.

What is clear, and shown in this issue of Police News, is that we cannot just say armed response teams are not appropriate and leave it at that.

The association has a duty to ensure our members are heard in this debate. You deserve to have your voice, and we must make sure your voice is not drowned out by those who never have to face what you do. You have every right to make it home after each and every shift.

Kia kaha

Chris Cahill, NZPA president

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