Dylan is the deputy editor of the Bay of Plenty Times.

Editorial: Shootings spur debate on arming

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The shooting of four police officers in the Eastern Bay of Plenty this week again raises the question of whether or not police should be armed.

Alleged gunman Rhys Warren was arrested on Thursday after a 22-hour stand-off with police, during which the officers were shot.

One of the officers remains in hospital in a stable condition, three have been discharged.

In the wake of this week's shootings National MP Judith Collins suggested it served as a wake-up call for people who were concerned about arming police.

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"These officers were armed and fully kitted out in the body armour the AOS use and still you end up with injuries."

The incident highlights how quickly volatile events can escalate for police, and just how unpredictable the nature of their work is.

There are inherent risks associated with being a police officer, and those on the force will be well aware of this when they join.

Personally, I do not think the time has come to arm police officers in this country, at least not yet.
Dylan Thorne

The question is, will arming officers keep them safe?

Greg O'Connor, the president of the Police Association, initially declined to say whether he thought the incident would ignite the debate about the need for frontline officers to be armed.

However, in an opinion piece published in the New Zealand Herald in 2014, Mr O'Connor was steadfast in his view that police should be armed.

Mr O'Connor based his case on the prevalence of armed offender incidents, which unfold without warning.

"They are now so commonplace as to pass virtually without mention unless the incident is compounded by a carjacking or high-speed chase," he wrote.

"Finding guns during routine traffic stops or search warrants was also almost a daily occurrence.

"This had prompted more than two-thirds of frontline police to say last year that they believed it was now necessary to be armed," he said.

He argued that a weapon locked in a vehicle when needed is no use to anyone.

An editorial in the same paper, written in response, said the argument that guns would give police an edge when they confronted criminals overlooked the nature of most assaults on officers in that usually they did not have the initiative.

It also pointed out that in the United States, the FBI has calculated that in half the cases of murders, the officer did not even have time to draw his gun.

The shootings in the Eastern Bay this week were shocking. The argument to arm police is a compelling one.

No one wants to see a police officer shot in the line of duty, but the call to arm officers needs to be weighed up against the almost intangible concept of our values as a society.

Do we want to live in a society in which police officers wear guns on their hips as a matter of course?

And would such a move damage the positive relationship that now exists between the general public and the police?

Personally, I do not think the time has come to arm police officers in this country, at least not yet.

Members of the armed offenders squad are best suited, because of the training, to deal with situations like the one that arose this week.

We do not want to see random shootouts in the streets, as seen in other parts of the world.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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