To arm or not to arm the police.
A loaded statement linked to a range of issues including public safety, police safety, violent criminal behaviour, gang activity and treatment of specific communities, like Pacific and Māori, by law enforcement.
On one side, escalating levels of violence in the community, specifically directed at police officers, is used as justification for arming frontline officers. It would assist in keeping them safe and controlling situations, supporters say.
Those opposed reject this, pointing to current shortfalls in policing competency and statistics that show Pacific and Māori are treated worse than Pākehā by police (and the wider justice system).
In this camp, the real risks around rolling out weapons to a workforce with these issues highlight why general arming is not a smart idea. Not to mention the serious doubts around the merits of using more guns as a tool to make high-risk situations less dangerous.
Unfortunately, it makes for a public discussion that offers little insight into or hope in addressing problems that prompt the seemingly all-or-nothing proposition of arming police in the first instance.
Don't you want police to be safe in their jobs? What about those who point weapons at police? Shouldn't frontline officers be ready to defend themselves against them? Never mind that. Since when did having more guns out there make any community safer?
And what about treatment bias and racism in the police - more armed officers means more chances for Pacific and Māori to be hurt by law enforcement.
All are points that tend to get hijacked by loud and often unhelpful perspectives. Those in turn make it harder to understand the genuine issues. Here, it's about getting to some of the more reasonable sources of information.
Last month, Police Commissioner Andrew Coster discussed concerns around violence directed at police in an interview with RNZ. He highlighted an overall, moderate rise in violence towards officers, and also touched on the impacts this had.
First, Coster said a noticeable increase in the willingness to be violent towards police officers had resulted in feedback they generally felt less safe in their work. Second, he noted the difficulty in dealing with a lot of these incidents for frontline officers.
"Generally speaking, [these situations involve] offenders who are not making sound decisions that a sober person would make," Coster said.
"The sort of high-risk-taking behaviour by offenders is a step up from what we've seen in the past."
"De-escalation" solutions like body cam recordings were unlikely to be helpful in these situations, he said.
Overall, it wasn't the most encouraging interview. In less than 10 minutes, Coster outlined a status quo where officers were dealing with increasing amounts of violent and confrontational behaviour often related to drug use and mental health problems.
Yes, some of it was around disrespect for police, but most of it appeared related to underlying factors, which frontline police are unlikely to be equipped and qualified to address. Coster also said those attacking police were not in any state to make "rational" decisions.
For Coster, and others who have a say in how the police is run, the pattern of violence means balancing rising concerns around safety among police with the realities of what is happening on the street.
Notably, the recently released Police Association members' survey – performed every two years – found nearly three-quarters of officers supported "general arming of police with firearms". The 73 per cent in-favour response rate is the highest since its 2010 survey.
A write-up on the survey in the union's August magazine also highlighted its timing – it was performed a year after the fatal shooting of Constable Matt Hunt in West Auckland. Similarly, the 2010 survey was performed a year after Senior Constable Len Snee was shot dead in Napier.
In terms of how best to proceed from here, top priority should be given to addressing the root issues driving safety concerns of police in their work.
I do not believe general arming is the answer. Rather, as Coster has alluded to, looking deeper into what is causing behaviour that leads to violence against police is a good start.
From there, we can identify where resources should really be placed – whether that's in more community services or upskilling frontline police officers in areas like mental health.