Greg O'Connor thinks the shootings in Ottawa, and the way this was ended, demonstrates the need to routinely arm New Zealand's Police. He's completely wrong about that.

What happened at Canada's war memorial and parliamentary buildings is a pretty Bad Thing. It should, however, be kept in some sort of perspective. 

There are always going to be individuals who pose a danger to others; that wavy line where ideology blurs into mental illness is a fraught place for us as a society. And yes - ISIS/ISIL/IS have provided a very high profile (and message savy) focus for such individuals. So I don't say they pose us no risk of harm or that we should discount the possibility of similar attacks in New Zealand completely.

It seems to me, however, that the greater danger to us lies in overreacting to any threat that a potential "lone wolf" zealot poses by changing our whole social ethos. As John Key has said:

If you weren't prepared to do anything solely on the basis of that (increased risk) then you actually start losing your independent foreign policy because by definition you're saying that the actions of terrorists will stop you standing up to those terrorists and I think that's a dilution of responsibility that New Zealanders wouldn't want to take. 

I'd expand that out beyond foreign policy to a general statement - if we let increased risk start to dictate how we operate as a society in terms of access to our public institutions and the like, then we are no longer acting as an independent nation with our own values and ways of being, and ISIS/ISIL/IS win.

However, for the Police Association and its President Greg O'Connor, the Canadian crisis is just another word for opportunity. In a press release highlighting the fact that delegates at the Association's conference have voted unanimously in favour of allowing police officers to routinely carry firearms on their person, O'Connor is quoted as saying:

On TVNZ this morning, the new minister gave his view, that Police do not need to be armed,  while standing on the forecourt of parliament.  The dark irony was that the interview followed immediately after breaking news of a gunman running amok in the Canadian parliament in Ottawa. Police in that country are armed and were able to respond immediately.  That would not be the case here.

 O'Connor then reiterated that claim on Radio NZ's Morning Report this morning:

Mr O'Connor said having firearms locked up was not helpful in an unpredictable situation like the shootings in Canada yesterday.

OK, then - let's take O'Connor at his word and use the Canadian example as an exemplar case for whether or not routinely armed police officers is necessary. The first point we might note is that the offender in the Canadian attack was not stopped by a police officer at all. It was Kevin Vickers, the Canadian Parliament's sergeant-at-arms, who did so. Sure, he was an ex-Mountie, but the notion that having armed police on the streets of Canada was instrumental in halting the actions of Michael Zehaf-Bibeau is plain false.

And how exactly did Mr Vickers manage to shoot and kill Mr Zehaf-Bibeau? Did he simply reach for his hip and pull out the ever-present glock/magnum/colt (I don't know much about guns) from its holster? No. No he didn't.

By all accounts, the white-haired grandfather, a decorated veteran of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, kept cool amid the chaos as dozens of bullets flew in the corridors, went to his office, retrieved his weapon and with a firm hand and a steely eye shot a killer before he could kill again.

In other words, he did exactly what an officer in New Zealand would do when reacting to an armed offender - went to retrieve the necessary tools to deal with the situation from their secure location and then used them to stop the danger to himself and others.

So if Canada really is going to inform our debate, rather than simply be an convenient high-profile incident for Mr O'Connor and his Association to exploit cynically in order to advance their agenda, then the message it sends is that New Zealand's current approach is the right one to take

Oh - one more thing. If we're going to use indvidual cases like Canada (or, more relevantly this or this) to argue in favour of arming the police, then we also have to confront cases like the one just reported on by the Independent Police Complaints Authority:

An Independent Police Conduct Authority report released today has found that the use of a Police dog during the arrests of two young men was an excessive use of force and unlawful.

...

The officer and his dog tracked the man and found him hiding in a gap between a shed and a fence in the back corner of a Godley Road section.  The officer then deployed his dog and commanded him to bite and hold the offender.

“The officer’s use of his dog in this instance was an excessive and unlawful use of force.

“Given that the offender was standing still with both hands in the air and making no attempt to resist arrest the deployment of the dog was unnecessary. There were other, less harmful tactical options available to the officer which he should have used rather than deploying the Police dog,” Sir David said.

I assume that the only reason this officer is not being charged with assault using a weapon, as happens whenever a member of the public encourages his or her dog to attack the police, is that the victims of the attack are refusing to communicate with the Police at all. Because it would be worrying if the Police were applying a double standard here: that where dogs are unlawfully used against them, it's a serious criminal matter; but if they themselves unlawfully use dogs against the public, it's simply a matter of "employment actions reinforcing police policy and the importance of good decision-making around the appropriate use of dogs and other tactical options."

But to get back to my original point - any decision whether or not to give the police immediate and constant access to firearms when confronting any and all alleged offenders has to take account not only of the danger to police, but also the danger that the police themselves can pose. 

At the moment, a bad apple cop with pepper spray/taser/dog equals sore eyes/jolting pain and incapacitation/stitches and a tetnus shot. But a bad apple cop with gun on hip equals a dead person. 

Comments (18)

by Cushla McKinney on October 24, 2014
Cushla McKinney

I was also disturbed by his repeated references to people with mental illness. Please correct me if I am wrong, but as I understand it, the majority of violent crimes are carried out by 'sane' individuals and in the few instances where an unwell person becomes dangerous the risk is highest for immediate family (and presumably should be handled by rather healt professionals with the assistance if necessary of the AOS) not the public at large? Or do we want police going around shoting psychiatric sufferers?

 

 

by Moz on October 24, 2014
Moz

Cushla, by definition anyone who attacks police is mentally ill... just ask the head of the police union.

Andrew, your article a much clearer statement of what I was thinking than I could hope to produce. I was just stuck at "he went and got his gun, then came back and shot the bad guy". In many ways the problem is not that police don't have guns, it's that police don't routinely wear body armour and are not all completely insane heros. Read this for example, about a pair of cops who hid while bystanders dealt with a man running amok with a knife (killed multiple people). The solution there was not to arm the cops, they already had guns, the solution was to get the cops out there dealing with the dude.

As you point out, we have more of a problem with cops misusing the weapons we give them than with cops being denied weapons. I'm not convinced that criminal prosecution of cops is always a good idea, but there are cases like the dog one where I'm inclined to say the criminal prosecution shouldn't stop just with the immediate offender - there's grounds for some kind of "conspiring to cover up a crime after the fact" case against the hierarchy.

In the particular case I don't see any need for the victim to take part in the case if they don't want to - surely the facts of the matter are known and for the offender to refuse to testify would itself be grounds for dismissal from the force (and a refusal to re-hire)? It's also a good argument for putting cameras on officers and making it a requirement of being on the job that the camera is working. Plus having a separate, ombudsman-type office whose job it is to delete unneeded footage (perhaps we could fund some community legal centres to do that as a sideline?). That way if the cops "lose" footage that alone is evidence of a crime...

by Iain Butler on October 24, 2014
Iain Butler

any decision whether or not to give the police immediate and constant access to firearms when confronting any and all alleged offenders has to take account not only of the danger to police, but also the danger that the police themselves can pose. 

And let's not forget the danger posed to police by their own weapons being wrested from them and used against them.

Greg O'Connor's argument seems to stem form the entirely reasonable objective of elimiating deaths on duty in our police force. But is his facination with guns as the only answer blinding his to risk trade-off involved?

Remember the Turangi road policeman knocked out from a single punch while doing a routine breath test in 2011? What if he'd been armed at the hip? Odds are, the gun would have at best case been pinched, and at worst case been discharged on the helpless officer.

Against that, O'Connor admitted on RNZ this morning that only two of the most recent nine frontline police deaths would have been potentially avoided by guns at the hip. Not an especially compelling argument for me.

by Flat Eric on October 24, 2014
Flat Eric

Let's see one twelve-month period pass with no ICPA report that the police have used excessive force against a citizen. Then we can start a debate on arming the police. Up until now, every incremental increase in police capability (PR-24 batons, tazers) has resulted in new ways for the police to assult citizens (with as Andrew points out, apparent impunity).

by Charlie on October 24, 2014
Charlie

I’m far from being ‘anti-gun’ having been a ‘practical pistol’ shooter overseas and having carried a handgun in my daily life for about a decade.

Despite that, I am also not greatly in favour of the police carrying pistols in their normal duties.

In my opinion cops mostly aren’t well trained enough to carry weapons in day to day service. Police training is often inadequate for them to be instinctive shooters, many individuals are unsuited to carry firearms and they generally don’t get enough regular practice to remain proficient. A handful of practice rounds on a static target once a month just don’t do it. The budget is never big enough.

It is a general rule that under pressure we defend ourselves with what we have to hand. If you’ve got a stick in your hand you’ll use that. If it’s a Glock, you’ll be pulling the trigger. Thus overall, a lot more confrontations will finish up as shootings just because a gun was brought into the situation. If an offender is armed then for sure bring in the weapons fast, but if we have cops regularly intervening in fights with guns drawn, more people will die. If they go in with holstered guns, they’ll be taken off them.

In a situation where an armed cop is attacked by an assailant with say, a knife or a club, if the assailant is within 2m of the cop, the cop will, on average lose, and in losing may get his weapon taken off him. My experience overseas is that armed police lose weapons at an alarming rate – to exactly the sort of people who shouldn’t have them. Do a Google search of “gun taken from cop” and see how many hits you get.

Just how much gun related crime is there in NZ? Nobody knows how many guns there are in NZ (I was told recently an estimate of around 5million) yet despite the number of weapons, it seems we’re a fairly sensible bunch and handle them well. We hear of a one of two hunting accidents each year and maybe the odd nutter in an armed standoff. Is this frequency of incident really worth the cost and risk?

I would like to hear what serving officers think about this – carrying a pistol in general duties is not a responsibility I would want.

by Moz on October 24, 2014
Moz

Charlie, last I heard a discussion like that with a serving cop he was adamant that the fewer pistols the police had, the better. For the reasons you cover, but with more an emphasis on "no cop should be allowed to shoot someone until they've been on the beat for 10 years", because he was a cranky old beat cop who was unhappy that the smart young kids tend to jump into situations boots'n'all and raise the level of tension instead of lowering it. He was, just for the record, a decorated cop with a wee collection of bravery awards which he desribed as "for the times when I screwed up to the point where it became obvious to any idiot that there was a problem". I suspect he meant "police high command" by that but was too polite to say so.

by Rae on October 24, 2014
Rae

Greg O'Connor sounded almost hysterical on Radio Live this morning, telling us that we WILL have an Anders Brievik here that we WILL have a terrorist attack. Honestly, if his attitude is anything to go by, about the last thing police need is death in a holster on their hips.

I also wonder about the cops who live and work in remote rural areas, usually solo. How would their suddenly having to get around with a weapon at all times change the way their neighbours and community see them. Not only are these people police, but they are also members of the communty who need friendships etc to be able to have a life where they live. 

by Charlie on October 24, 2014
Charlie

We might indeed have an Anders Brievik incident in the future, but will hanging a pistol off the hip of average beat cops help any?

It might stick in the throat of many here - but that's where internet surveillance has value.

 

 

 

by Moz on October 24, 2014
Moz

Rae, AFAIK most of those cops already carry a rifle in the boot at all times. Admittedly because part of their job is dealing with cattle that have been hit by cars and doing that with a cap-gun doesn't really work and they never know when it's going to be required. Seeing a cop with a 9mm pistol trying to put a horse with a broken back out of its misery is something no-one should have to go through, least of all the cop.

Charlie: Brevik would have been much more easily picked up by people reporting the comments he made (as they did) and the Police acting on them (which they were slow to do). Mass surveillance only gets you so far, we still need people in the loop. And the sort of rapid-arrest thing that will pick up Brevik will also see hundreds of g@mer ga1e arseholes locked up too (which would not be a bad thing). I'm not putting the hashtag in because they're an internet lynch mob and we don't want them here.

Personally I would not be unhappy if in exchange for the surveillance we already have I got an internet where threatening to kill someone led to being arrested, and stuff like revenge porn or theft and publication led to prison time. We already have the former, and the latter seem to be non-crimes despite there apparently being statue to the contrary. I mean, ideally we'd not have the surveillance but since that's apparently not an option, the least we can have is enforcement of the laws we already have.

by Lee Churchman on October 24, 2014
Lee Churchman

It seems to me, however, that the greater danger to us lies in overreacting to any threat that a potential "lone wolf" zealot poses by changing our whole social ethos.

Isn't it fair to say that our entire social ethos has for a long time characterised by overreacting to exaggerated threats? IS along with coffee (this week) and red meat is just another risk for our paranoid society to obsess over. You are still more likely to be killed by a member of your family than a terrorist. 

Personally I would not be unhappy if in exchange for the surveillance we already have I got an internet where threatening to kill someone led to being arrested

Please take your authoritarian fantasies somewhere else. Are you going to have every 14 year old arrested because they can't handle losing at Call of Duty?

 

by DeepRed on October 25, 2014
DeepRed

2 words single-handedly undermine Greg O'Connor's case: Ferguson, Missouri.

by DeepRed on October 25, 2014
DeepRed

And O'Connor missed the point that the Norwegian police took too long to respond to Breivik, despite having weapons. Reputedly a sizeable number of them happened to be on holiday at the time.

by william blake on October 25, 2014
william blake

There is a average of one cop killed in the line of duty every three years over the past four decades. There is a woman killed by their husband on average every six weeks in the same period.

Arm women.

by Lesley Ford on October 26, 2014
Lesley Ford

Long before our police are armed, I believe there need to be far more stringent regulations in place as to who can acquire a gun and how they are tested as to appropriateness for ownership. Also there should be a total ban on automatic and semi-automatic fire-arms.

by Charlie on October 26, 2014
Charlie

Lesley: Your basis for thinking that can only be irrational, because there clearly isn't a gun crime issue in NZ.

http://www.crime.co.nz/c-files.aspx?ID=10751

If you want to restrict the ownership of dangerous weapons, I suggest propose a ban on swiming pools, because they kill FAR more people.

http://www.watersafety.org.nz/assets/PDFs/Drowning/2012-Fact-Sheets/Home...

 

 

 

by Rae on October 27, 2014
Rae

@moz I am well aware of what armoury the police have and perhaps in some cases a humane killer among them would not go astray. I just don't think that a pistol in a holster on one's hips at all times woud go down that well.

by Lesley Ford on October 29, 2014
Lesley Ford

@Charlie.

You have misunderstood my comment. O’Connor posited that because there are some bad and/or mentally ill people out there with guns they might shoot at policemen, therefore policemen should be armed with guns.

My argument is that if there are bad people and/or mentally ill people out there who are able to acquire guns, we should as a nation review our legislation that allows the sale of guns to people who clearly should not have them in the first instance.

At the same time we should be questioning the need to have weapons in this country, the sole purpose of which is the maiming and killing the maximum number of humans (not animals). Why does anyone need to have a semi or automatic gun unless they are planning to kill a lot of people? Since murder is a crime in this country, such weapons should not be available to anyone.

To compare the number of deaths from firearms to swimming pools is irrational. The latter is not intentional the former is

by Charlie on October 30, 2014
Charlie

Lesley:

...we should as a nation review our legislation that allows the sale of guns to people who clearly should not have them in the first instance.

We currently have plenty of legislation to prevent the mentally ill or criminals buying guns. Anyone wishing to obtain even the lowest level of firearms licence has to pass pass an exam covering legal and safety issues, the police do an extensive background check on them, they are interviewed by the local firearms officer and their storage & security facilities are inspected before the licence is issued. It is all very strict and sensible - likely the main reason we have so little gun crime.

At the same time we should be questioning the need to have weapons in this country, the sole purpose of which is the maiming and killing the maximum number of humans (not animals). Why does anyone need to have a semi or automatic gun unless they are planning to kill a lot of people? Since murder is a crime in this country, such weapons should not be available to anyone.

There are lots of good reasons for owning firearms. These include a wide variety of hunting, farming & recreational purposes. You make a common false assumption regarding semi and automatic weapons. Overall there is no evidence to show that owning an automatic weapon poses a greater threat than a simple magazine bolt action rifle or pump action shotgun. To the extent that soldiers are trained NOT to use the full-auto option because it mostly just wastes ammo.

But getting back to the main point: There isn't a firearms problem in this country. What gun crime there is, is generally committed by criminals - who wouldn't obey stiffer laws anyway.

 

 

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