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Herald on Sunday editorial: Armed officers' admirable restraint

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Police comissioner Superintendent Mike Bush (left) fronts media along with Taupo police area commander Warwick Morehu at Onepu Springs Rd after the gunman was taken into custody. Photo / Nick Reed
Police comissioner Superintendent Mike Bush (left) fronts media along with Taupo police area commander Warwick Morehu at Onepu Springs Rd after the gunman was taken into custody. Photo / Nick Reed

Those who are quick to criticise the police when fatal shootings occur should be no less quick to commend them when an armed confrontation does not end with an alleged offender being shot. Praise is particularly highly deserved when as many as four police officers have been shot and are being treated in hospital as the tense stand-off continued.

The patience and professionalism of our police in the incident in the eastern Bay of Plenty on Wednesday is a credit to all of the armed offenders squad, and particularly, of course, to the Taupo area commander, Inspector Warwick Morehu, who talked to the alleged gunman and helped defuse the crisis without further harm.

Many questions remain, and might not be answered until criminal proceedings against 27-year-old Rhys Warren come to court.

The public is reasonably wondering how as many as four members of an armed offenders squad could be in a line of fire. The incident arose after shots were allegedly fired at a spotter plane during a cannabis recovery operation. But there is no place for conjecture about what happened next when the case is before the courts.

The same applies to criticism of the police tactics by some of the accused's family as the stand-off continued. Women who wanted to go into the house and talk to him made their annoyance voluble on television that night. Many hearing and reading their comments have criticised their apparent indifference to the fact that four policemen had just been shot. But they, too, deserve a good measure of understanding for the distress they were in.

It surely can be said, though, that police did the right thing in not letting them through the cordon. Even Inspector Morehu would have used a phone.

As a former adviser to police negotiators, Lance Burdett, told the Herald, it was "textbook" practice. "(A besieged gunman) can change in a dime. Some people just switch. It is a very volatile situation."

Police Association president Greg O'Connor was quick to point out during the stand-off that it was one more incident in which police were faced with firearms. His association does not call for the police to be routinely armed but he implies that some sort of policy response is required. The ownership and possession of the gun involved in this case will be important to find out.

The effective licensing of guns or gun-owners can always be improved and this incident may provide a further reason to do so. But on the face of events, those tense 22 hours this week demonstrated the restraint of armed police at its best.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- Herald on Sunday

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