Teuila Fuatai is a reporter for the NZ Herald

Tasers help keep use of firearms down

Firearms were drawn six times by Wanganui police in the past two years.

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

Of the six Wanganui 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 officers during the 27-month period.

Wanganui/Ruapehu area commander Inspector Steve Mastrovich attributed Wanganui's low police firearms figures to intensive training.

"All front-line staff go through training ... once every six months.

"Part of that is the use of the tactical options framework where staff are taught to assess situations and to assess the need to respond, the need to respond now and the level of force to respond with."

Mr Mastrovich, a policeman for 30 years, said officer response to confrontational situations had vastly improved during his career.

Rigorous training programmes, strict accountability and access to Tasers and pepper spray had all helped, he said.

The Wanganui figures relate to incidents attended by officers from the Hunterville, Marton, Wanganui and Waverley stations.

Gun draws and shots fired in training are not included.

Neither are draws by AOS members or special tactics groups police - though any shots fired by these officers are included.

Nationally, police drew firearms 104 times in the six months to June 30 last year.

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]."

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

"They have firearms available to them in the vehicle."

Police are currently 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

- Wanganui Chronicle

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