Police officers are coming across more and more firearms in their daily work, sparking concerns for their safety. Reporter Kiri Gillespie investigates exactly how many guns are being seized in the Bay of Plenty and why those on the front line believe there could still be many more no one knows about and why society should be worried.
A total of 683 guns have been seized by police in the Bay over the past five years, sparking safety concerns from the police association.
New Zealand Police figures obtained by the Bay of Plenty Times reveal a total of 251 guns were seized by officers in the Western Bay area from 2014 to 2018. These include 135 rifles, 72 shotguns and five fake guns.
However, police only introduced a mandatory monitoring system for seized guns in December 2018. The true number of guns in the community remains unknown.
"That's the scary thing; you don't know when you're going to a house or stopping a car whether they have a gun."
New Zealand Police Association Bay of Plenty and Waikato director Scott Thompson said "the fact no one knows how many are out there" was a big concern.
"That's the scary thing; you don't know when you're going to a house or stopping a car whether they have a gun.
"We are coming across them so often ... you find them in cars whereas before you would find a knife or a pair of knuckle dusters."
The number of guns being seized by police had become "prolific", he said.
In March this year, the Bay of Plenty had the highest number of firearms events with 47. In April, it was third behind Counties Manukau and Waikato.
"It's not rocket science that we've had a number of incidents where police have been shot at in the Bay of Plenty and Waikato area," Thompson said.
Burst tyre on truck blocking lanes near Tauranga Harbour Bridge
In March, 2016, four officers were shot with one seriously injured in a siege near Kawerau - the biggest police shootout in New Zealand's history. In February this year, a gang member who robbed a Kawerau bank tried shooting an officer with a shotgun. He was shot dead by police.
In 2016, the association backed a Law and Order select committee inquiry into how criminals accessed firearms. Only seven of 20 recommendations designed to reduce criminal access to guns were accepted. The association also supports calls for a firearms registrar.
Thompson believed a lack of checks and balances around gun ownership was largely responsible for their prevalence in society. He was glad more regulation had been put in place following the Christchurch mosque shootings in March this year but was saddened it took a tragedy to prompt the action. After the attack, the Government banned military-style semi-automatics and introduced a buy-back scheme for people to hand their guns back.
"For a country of our size, there appears to be a hell of a lot of firearms coming into the country. I doubt there's a shift that goes by where a police officer isn't dealing with a firearm," Thompson said.
In a breakdown of the Bay of Plenty policing districts, 117 guns were taken by police in the Eastern Bay of Plenty; 190 in Rotorua; and another 125 in Taūpo.
Western Bay of Plenty acting area commander Zane Smith said health and safety of the public was the police's top priority, and this included regularly reviewing firearms policies.
"We want to make sure that our officers have the tools and specialist support to perform their roles safely, to ensure the safety of the public."
Detective Sergeant Alan Kingsbury expressed concern about the fact police were finding more and more firearms in their day-to-day work.
"There's some serious firepower out there and it's hugely concerning," he said in November.
He made the comments after Head Hunter gang member Liam Kane was jailed for carrying "serious firepower".
Police found an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, a suppressor, a telescopic scope, two high-capacity 30-round magazines, as well as 16 rounds hidden in the garage of Kane's Tauranga home.
A month earlier, Head Hunter Kalwyn Kershaw was jailed for pulling a loaded pistol on two young men after slashing them with a knife in downtown Tauranga.
As of May 20, 2019, there were 25,450 people in the Bay of Plenty who hold an active firearms licence, dealer licence, or a visitor firearms licence. In the Western Bay, there were 9989 licences.
Confiscated guns were taken either through search warrants in police raids or because a person was believed to be in breach of the Arms Act; at risk of harm to themselves or others; or a crime has been or is about to be committed.
Police Minister Stuart Nash confirmed there was not an accurate picture of how many weapons were out there. This reinforced why the Government was increasing the number of police officers.