Guns drawn just six times in two years

By Teuila Fuatai

Guns were drawn six times by Wairarapa police in the past two years.

Figures released to the Times-Age provide a breakdown of firearms use by police between March 22, 2010 and June 30, 2012.

Of the six Wairarapa incidents, four occurred in 2011 and two in 2010. Guns were not drawn in the six months to June last year and no shots were fired by police during the 27-month period.

Area commander Inspector Brent Register said police used a range of tools to diffuse confrontational situations.

"We have what we call a tactical options framework. It starts with communication," he said.

It then escalated to hand-cuffing, using force to make an arrest and "assaultive force", he said.

Police also carried batons, pepper spray and Tasers.

Mr Register said the low number of police firearm incidents were encouraging and likely due to Wairarapa's small population.

The figures relate to incidents attended by officers from the Carterton, Featherston, Greytown, Martinborough and Masterton stations.

Gun draws and shots fired in training are not included. Neither are draws by AOS members or special tactics groups police, although any shots fired by these officers are included.

Nationally, police drew firearms 104 times in the six months to June 30, 2012. Two incidents resulted in guns being fired, both of which were non-fatal.

Last January, Auckland man William Smith was shot in the leg when police attended a domestic violence incident in South Auckland.

Police said Smith had threatened officers with a cylinder and garden spade, before being pepper sprayed, tasered and shot.

Two months later, Christchurch police shot 27-year-old Zakariye Mohamed Hussein who went on a frenzied knife-wielding rampage. Hussein, who kidnapped and stabbed a pie delivery driver and knifed a city council worker, was jailed for six-and-a-half years.

Police Association president Greg O'Connor said the introduction of Tasers in March 2010 had helped reduce the number of gun draws by officers.

"While it was not meant to be a substitute to the firearm, the reality is that it did fill that gap in the use of force options between say pepper spray and guns," Mr O'Connor said.

In 2011, police drew firearms 277 times, resulting in four weapon discharges by officers and two fatal shootings of suspects.

The shooting of Hawkes Bay teenager Lachan Kelly-Tumarae, who died in hospital after being struck by four of 14 bullets fired by police, drew widespread criticism that year. The 19-year-old was fired upon after threatening officers with a loaded shotgun in March.

Mr O'Connor said officers received intensive firearm training and would use guns as a last resort.

"They can only use firearms essentially when they can't achieve their purpose with any lesser use of force when protecting themselves or any other people from death or serious bodily injury," Mr O'Connor said.

The second fatal 2011 incident occurred in July when police shot Taranaki man Antony Roydon Ratahi. The 46-year-old was holding his ex-girlfriend hostage and died from a single bullet to the head.

Mr O'Connor said most New Zealand police officers were unarmed.

"They have firearms available to them in the vehicle," he said.

Police are in the process of providing firearms to all officer vehicles, he added.

Between March 22 and December 31, 2010, police drew guns 183 times. APNZ

- Wairarapa Times-Age

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