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NZPA president Chris Cahill

The past month has been dominated by news reports of firearms incidents against police and the public, and vicious assaults on officers.

Frustratingly, and of huge concern, it seems to have taken this concentration of high-profile dangerous incidents for media and the public to focus on the environment police officers face every night and every day.

In my role, I receive daily reports of serious assaults against officers – too many of which are career-altering or career-ending.

Reports also detail the constant presence of firearms in what are often business-as-usual policing and, again, too many outline situations that could have ended tragically.

When I got the call that a Hamilton colleague had been shot, I immediately expected the worst. I was extremely relieved when advised he was alive, but relief is no more of a strategy than hope, and neither are deterrents against much more distressing news.

None of this is a surprise to members. Based on the reports from officers out there doing the mahi and risking their safety, the association has for years been warning of the looming firearms proliferation crisis. What may be new – and it is early days still – is a shift in public acknowledgment of the reality and a torrent of calls for answers.

Aotearoa’s illegal firearms genie can’t be shoved back in the bottle, but measures to mitigate its widespread damage and halt its continuation need to be completed if the Government’s professed concerns about firearms are genuine.

Increasingly, frontline officers are demanding to be armed, and who can blame them when they are the ones being shot or facing that constant threat.

I accept this option is not a panacea to all risk but, in the absence of anything else, it needs to be taken very seriously.

I am supportive of the Frontline Safety Improvement Programme and enhanced frontline skills training, but these can only take us so far. That is why I am calling for a renewed assessment of the ART (Armed Response Team) model. Regrettably, Police squandered the opportunity to explain the benefits of highly skilled officers who are readily available to go quickly and directly to serious firearms incidents or other situations as they occur. I do not believe that means the concept is defunct.

We also need to consider turning on its head the status quo on general arming.

Instead of arming-up when required, why not arm-down when no threat exists? When dealing with the unknown – most often the time of real threat – being armed circumvents the risks of having to retrieve firearms from the vehicle lockbox.

Conversely, when attending incidents posing no discernible threat, disarm.

It is no longer credible to argue that general arming of police will fundamentally change their relationship with communities because New Zealand communities themselves have fundamentally changed.

In response to valid threats, Police issued area-specific general arming orders more than once a week last year and media consistently run images showing officers who are armed for the specific purpose of keeping safe those very communities.

It is about striking a balance – to ensure safe communities, officers must also be safe.

From the President

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