The attack on Bruce Mellor shouldn't be linked with arming our police. Instead, we need to unload and ask whether more guns and more fear of the police is really the best way forward?

More prisons, more police power, and more guns. This is the vision of the Police Association and it's long-term leader Greg O'Connor, its path to greater safety for the police and public. It's a message that many New Zealanders seem happy to hear; and if the world was more like a cops 'n robbers film or video game, they might have a point.

But it's not. It's a place of anger and drunkeness, split second decisions, human frailty and everyday tragedy.

The attack on Senior Constable Bruce Mellor couldn't have been better timed for the police propaganda machine, as it argues for more armed police on our streets. That's not to disrespect Mellor's service, but simply an observation of how the public react with their gut when officers are injured in the line of duty.

In this case the sympathy for Mellor could stop people giving serious thought to the decision by police to put guns in boxes locked in the boot of "frontline" vehicles from the middle of next year.

Of course there's no link. Police Minister Judith Collins said a gun wouldn't have helped Mellor, just as it wouldn't have improved the chances of any police officers shot, or shot at, in recent times.

As the older sister of the teen charged with attacking the Senior Constable said outside the court in Whanganui:

"What if [Mr Mellor] did have a gun on him and what if my little brother would have got a hold of that gun? Things could have been really different."

Different, better? No. Yet Police Commissioner Howard Broad said yesterday:

“We will be taking the firearms out of the station and into cars.”

And consequently, into the streets. How on earth will this make us safer? How does having more guns in highly charged and violent situations create a more secure and peaceful society?

The arguments in favour, as far as I can see, are ones of equality and deterrence. That is, 'give the cops a fighting chance' and 'if the bad guys know the good guys are armed, they won't do bad in the first place'.

The latter argument seems naive, especially given the access that police already have to guns and the high profile afforded armed police responses to crime. I suspect that a poll of those who have committed an armed crime would show that they know a thing or two about the resources police have.

I'd also ask, where do we stop? Why not give the police machine guns, if you want a real deterrent? And is the police officer as deterrent really a better option than police officer as role model, earning the respect of the community, rather than the fear?

As for equality, if this was a real priority, wouldn't it make more sense to remove the number of guns from society – so that everyone has less access to guns – rather than increase the number of guns out there? Most illegal, unlicensed guns start out as legal, licensed guns, and we have hundreds of thousands of them in this country.

What's that you say? Don't impinge on the rights of responsible gun owners? Well then, don't impinge on my right to raise a family in a society which says no to more and more guns.

What about the rights of Halatau Naitoko, shot and killed accidentally when a police officer opened fire on an Auckland motorway on a Friday afternoon? Both Naitoko's family and the officer have to live with that one, terrible decision made because of the officer had access to a gun (even though there were two expert marksmen in position as well).

With the Coroner's report due soon on that incident, it may yet cast a very different light on the desirability of more armed police.

The argument for equality is an argument for more gun fights and an escalated response by criminals who ain't gonna bring a knife to a gunfight.

Yet the argument still gets made, often by folk who argue for a hardline on minor drug use because it may escalate into more serious drugs, and those who typically argue for smaller government and less state intrusion in our lives. Do they not see the inconsistency? The police already have powers and recourse to violence than no-one else has, so why be so quick to give them more?

Stop people smacking their kids? Nanny state gone mad! Give police more guns? Sure! Why not? Honestly...

I heard my old mate, lawyer Greg King, on radio this morning saying that half of all police officers killed in the US are killed by their own guns. I've never been able to find that sort of evidence, but Richard Prebble once told me a story from when he was Minister of Police that backs up King's line.

He asked about whether police should be armed as a new minister with an open mind. The Police Commissioner at the time said to him he didn't want it and wouldn't stand for it, his reason being that more officers were likely to die, shot by their own weapons.

All of this should give us pause. Life and death arguments shouldn't be spun or made out of misplaced sympathy. Sympathy for anyone, that is.

Which is why I'm repeatedly appalled by the way Police Association President Greg O'Connor is so quick to use violence against his members to push his political agenda. Every time an officer is attacked, regardless of the circumstances, O'Connor whips out his drum and starts banging.

Yet when the shoe is on the other foot – for example, the death of Mr Naitoko – he is just as quick to say what bad taste it is to raise the issue in such tragic circumstances. His faux anger is as distasteful as it is hypocritical.

Has he given up on his officers earning again the respect of the community? On governments addressing the causes of crime? Is simply making the police the biggest, nastiest bruiser on the block really the best he can offer?

How very sad.

Fact is, guns just add fuel to the fire of crime and confrontation. So let's take our fingers off the trigger and think about where this is going before it's too late.

Comments (22)

by Pete Turangi on December 14, 2010
Pete Turangi

Stop people smacking their kids? Nanny state gone mad! Give police more guns? Sure! Why not? Honestly...

Indeed!

What do we want? Evidence-based change!

When do we want it? After peer review!

by Campbell MacDiarmid on December 14, 2010
Campbell MacDiarmid

A small point Tim: firearms aren't licensed in New Zealand, firearms users are.

by Iain Butler on December 14, 2010
Iain Butler

It's hard to think of a recent scenario where the proposed changes would have changed the outcome.

The pair of officers shot in Christchurch in July were on routine enquiries and not expecting trouble; the last three officers to die in the line of duty were respectively laying roads spikes (Derek Wootton), undercover (Don Wilkinson), and executing a search warrent (Len Snee), so at best one of those outcomes could have changed with access to a firearm.

So why do reports of calls for more access to guns so routinely make mention of the number of officers killed and woulded in action on the past few years?

by Kyle Matthews on December 14, 2010
Kyle Matthews

The standard of debate on this issue is truly appalling. For such a serious issue, the media reports have failed to connect two very obvious dots, which the assailant's sister has managed to connect.

The three likely results of giving police greater access to guns are:

1. More police being shot by their own guns.

2. More other people being shot by police guns.

3. More criminals arming themselves to prepare for police.

Arming police should be held off as long as possible, it just escalates the whole problem and doesn't solve anything.

by Matthew Percival on December 14, 2010
Matthew Percival

Of course there is a link between this attack and the guns debate. This was an attack against a police officer which raises the issue of how best police officers can protect themselves. People don't want the hero's of our society being hurt, hence the gun debate.

The police association has a genuine concern for it's officers and I'm disappointed with some of the words you have used to describe this. Misguided maybe but propaganda and pushing their own barrow, No.

I too am worried about officers having their guns used against them and I believe the superior option is to travel in pairs. However this does raise coverage and cost issues in rural environments. There is no easy solution.

by peasantpete on December 14, 2010
peasantpete

"Ordinary New Zealanders" behaving in a reasonable manner might be an achievable governmental goal.

Maybe we should look at what the scandinavians have done.

Once upon a time we we used to match them.

Now we are left in their dust.

I doubt that the dry neo con promoters understand anything else than a business balance sheet.

by william blake on December 14, 2010
william blake

Just thought I would get in before Mark Wilson.

Why is this pinko liberal excuse for a tory government being so nanny soft on criminals (who are really just beneficiaries after all)

Why bother arming cops when the criminals could easily be 'pre-deceased'. It makes sense, the cops know who is good and who is bad; thats their job after all. Why wait for violent crime to happen? A knock at the door two shots to the head end of crime end of story.

You have nothing to fear if you are innocent.

by Tim Watkin on December 14, 2010
Tim Watkin

Campbell, of course you're right. I know that and changed the sentence when I wrote it... but not enough obviously. Excuse my inprecision. I hope you get my point, however.

Iain, thanks for spelling out some of the examples. I didn't want to make the post any longer than it already was! Matthew, Iain's point reinforces my own about not creating a false link. Yes, a wounded officer naturally raises discussion about defence. But the gut reaction for many is – man hurt, give him more weapons – and I think that's dangerous. There is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that an armed Snr. Constable Mellor would have been any better off than he was; indeed, he may well have been at greater risk. That's the link I'm wary of.

Propaganda? Sorry, but I've been around too long and heard the comments made at the most emotive moments too often to believe they're anything else but. It's naive to think the Police Association doesn't have an agenda and a communications strategy to get its way.

I'm not saying they don't care about their members; I am saying I find their strategy distasteful and despairing of hope, and I oppose what they stand for.

Pairs makes sense, yet as you say, in rural areas especially that's not practical.

by stuart munro on December 14, 2010
stuart munro

@William a justice system not only fair but determininate, as Stockton might've written.

But more seriously I'd say dogs, not guns. If you arm all the police, you effectively declared martial law. Dogs are a significant deterrent to violent offenders, but rarely lethal. And a dog might well have saved Mellors, where a gun would not have, & might've killed him. Dogs are much more effective than tasers against aggro folk, and can do stirling work in search and rescue or drug detection as well. Lastly, police dogs contribute to the image of a friendly, well disciplined police force, while sidearms are inescapably associated with cowboys.

The only guns I want to see in the hands of NZ police are rifles for the armed offenders squad.

by Rex Widerstrom on December 15, 2010
Rex Widerstrom

Given that "we'll give you more police" has been a consistent refrain from both sides of the aisle during every election for as far back as I can recall, we must surely have so many of them by now that pairing them in rural areas - or at the very least posting sufficient numbers there so help can be called upon if an officer feels uneasy - is not beyond the capacity of the police?

Or has Mr O'Connor perhaps campaigned vociferously against officers being posted to areas they don't want to be sent to?

by Tim Watkin on December 15, 2010
Tim Watkin

Rex, I'm sure you'll have noted that this government's push with police numbers – the "vast bulk" of their extra recruits, to use one of their favourite phrases – has been in Manukau-Counties.

So I'm not sure rural numbers have increased much.

by Andrew Doherty on December 15, 2010
Andrew Doherty

Couldn't agree more Tim. One point of fact though, it is my understanding that in urban areas like Auckland police cars are ALREADY equipped with guns in lock boxes. As O'Connor noted on Morning Report yesterday, Broad seems to be trying to sell the status quo or perhaps widen this policy to all regions.

by Stephen McIntyre on December 15, 2010
Stephen McIntyre

Arming police further and the potential impact on cannabis users of is a big concern for NORML.

cf: our former President's media release on this from July 14, 2010: (http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PO1007/S00164.htm)

ARMING POLICE MEANS MORE DRUG WAR CASULTIES, SAYS NORML

NORML President Phil Saxby today warned that arming all frontline police could spell more drug related violence and propel New Zealand further and deeper into the War on Drugs.

“I am very concerned by the level of ‘fighting talk’ displayed by the Police at this moment and do not want to see armed officers going into every house they come across that smells of cannabis.”

“This would only mean disaster for New Zealand,” he said. “The Police Association has already warned that this move would actually mean more people getting shot.”

“In the War on Drugs, some – perhaps many – of those people could be young. Someone’s teenage son or daughters is growing some cannabis for themselves in their flat when the police come knocking about something unrelated, smell drugs and come in with weapons.”

“Statistically, 18 – 25 year olds are the most likely users of illegal drugs, which means as a group they are most at-risk of being caught up in any violent outcome associated with drug use.”

“It might be someone’s 15 year-old who happens to be at the local tinny-shop when a raid goes down, guns drawn. This is not the type of country anyone wants to see.”

“In the United states, warrant less searches by armed police regularly end in the suspect's fatality, often times when no drugs are actually found.”

“NORML has deep compassion for the shot officers and their slain dog but suggests that arming police is not the answer. Ending the criminalisation of drugs – cannabis most urgently of all – is.”

“Growing cannabis is not a violent crime but arming oneself to protect an illegal and highly valuable crop and then using it is. By regulating cannabis, we will reduce the number of situations when police will need to use guns.”

by Iain Butler on December 15, 2010
Iain Butler

Rural pundit Alan Emerson - hardly at the vanguard of PC - raises another concern from a rural standpoint in the latest Farmers_Weekly (pg 20), namely that an escalation in the potential for lethal violence has even graver consequences when the nearest police station can be half an hour or more away:

"...armed police will inevitably lead to the criminal element arming themselves to a greater degree ... If [criminals] are armed then the rural sector is under far greater threat with little or no police protection."

by Rex Widerstrom on December 15, 2010
Rex Widerstrom

Yeah Tim, I'd noticed that... the net really needs a "sarcasm" tag.

I'm sure that being posted close to a bustling, vibrant city suits most of the new recruits. But I wonder if Mr O'Connor, with his obvious concern for the safety of his members, has ever lobbied the government to send them to rural areas to provide greater support to isolated officers?

And - as our Parliamentarians ask - if not, why not?

by Nick R on December 15, 2010
Nick R

I wonder if Greg O'Connor has ever encountered a problem or situation which could not be solved by giving the Police more power.  It seems to be his response to everything.

by william blake on December 16, 2010
william blake

F060 - Carrying of Firearms by Police

(1) The New Zealand Police is generally an unarmed service. It is recognised however that firearms need to be available quickly, easily and safely. The principle of minimum personal carriage and minimum visibility of firearms and related equipment is to be applied at all times.

(2) Firearms are not to be carried on the person as a matter of general practice, but may be carried in authorised police vehicles to ensure they are available if needed.

(3) District Commanders may authorise the carriage of police approved firearms in police vehicles, as necessary to ensure members have ready access to firearms should the circumstances dictate. NCO patrols, first response units, CIB patrols, dog patrols, and single crewed patrols are examples where such authorisation should be considered.

 

Chances are that Bruce Mellor was armed and did not have the opportunity to get to his gun. The change to 'arming' the Police is one of quick access and visible power / force.

This change would seem to be throwing in the towel as far as poverty, welfare and criminality is concerned. The cost of a bullet to the Government may be attractively low compared to having a fairer society.

by Tim Watkin on December 16, 2010
Tim Watkin

Iain, it's an interesting comment. I suspect many people half an hour or more from a police station are armed anyway and tend to take the law into their own hands, so if more criminals are armed, that's a recipe for bad things... Although I wonder whether many people committing crimes on rural properties might arm themselves already.

Very practical thoughts so far - dogs and partners. Any other alternatives to guns that anyone can think of?

by stuart munro on December 16, 2010
stuart munro

Cyanoacrylate projectors. Non-lethal, rapid, 100% disabling. Not painful like tasers or pepper. Very messy.

Goodwill - superior range (a little goes a long way). Significant stopping power. Mana enhancing. Communally appropriate. Has political weaknesses. Not everyone can use it effectively. Eroded by things like traffic ticketing for revenue.

by DeepRed on December 22, 2010
DeepRed

Either the criminal element will drop onto its knees and wave a white flag - or up the ante and swap its pistols for Uzis, turning us into a South Seas Compton.

William B: "This change would seem to be throwing in the towel as far as poverty, welfare and criminality is concerned. The cost of a bullet to the Government may be attractively low compared to having a fairer society."

And the cost of making barbed wires and concrete walls blend into the McMansion hedge could be attractively low compared to having a fairer society.

I get the feeling it'll take a fireball of anger and hate, a la Brixton or Los Angeles, to jolt certain people out of their blowhardness.

by Tim Watkin on December 22, 2010
Tim Watkin

DR, surely all grown-ups must recognise that criminals will never drop to their knees in surrender. Like the poor, they will always be with us... in part because some of them are the poor and will always try to steal for a better life.

It's hokey, but we've got to keep going back to the causes of crime (and police eanring back respect) if we're going to address this without making it worse.

Having said that. I don't think for a second we're anywhere near a Brixton or LA-style riot. But neither do I think arming police will make us safer.

by danniel on July 18, 2013
danniel

We have to admit that we live in a society today where the population is empowered. A lot of people have guns today compared to the situation decades ago. I am sure that if you start a research you'll be surprised to see how many people know few things about gun brands like Benelli. The police needs to maintain an authority level in this context otherwise the institution would make any sense.

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