This summer the Chronicle is bringing you another look at some of the best content of 2019. This story originally ran on October 15, 2019
After the tragedy that occurred in Christchurch on in the March 15, 2019 where 51 innocent people had their lives taken by a crazed gunman we saw police openly carrying firearms all over New Zealand for some weeks.
This is a normal response to this type of terrorist attack due to the possibility of copycat crimes occurring. Within a short while most people did not comment and may not have even noticed when they saw a young constable walking the beat with a 9mm Glock pistol on the hip.
We see it everywhere else in the world, why would NZ be any different? Well New Zealand has always been proud of the fact that its national police is unarmed, one of very few unarmed police organisations left worldwide. Since the Christchurch tragedy the question of general and open arming of our police has arisen several times.
As a retired cop I can tell you that our "unarmed" police force has been armed to varying degrees since its formation in 1886. Sure the young coppers on the beat do not carry weapons generally but many other sections of the police are routinely armed every day, as they need to be.
Back in the late 70s and early 80s as a young detective and sergeant I routinely and daily carried a .38 revolver concealed under my jacket on my hip or in a shoulder holster. Prior to 1963 every detective had a personal issue .32 semi-automatic pistol.
All police at our international airports are openly armed and have been for over 40 years. All Diplomatic Protection Squad members are routinely armed.
Since the late 80s there have been facilities in patrol cars for all general duties staff to carry firstly revolvers and then pistols and, in the past decade or so, Bushmaster rifles securely whilst working.
Every day of the week police arm themselves to undertake particular operations knowing that there is a good chance of facing armed criminals who will not hesitate to fire upon police, more so now than ever before. In 23 years of policing I was fired upon only twice, once as an unarmed beat cop and once as a member of the AOS.
Modern day police can tell a very different story. Criminals in New Zealand nowadays have no hesitation in using firearms against one another or the police if it helps them achieve their nefarious aims.
There is a natural and somewhat understandable reluctance to change this situation on behalf of both the police administration and the general public.
Cost is a huge factor for the police to consider. Training 8800 sworn police to be highly efficient with a handgun is a big ask. I am not sure of the training regime nowadays but back in the day of the dinosaurs we had one, possibly two range days per year to shoot a total of about 48 rounds of .38 ammunition at stationary targets.
The "shoot, don't shoot" scenarios thankfully started being used generally in the early 1980s. Any firearm owner, especially pistol club members, will tell you to be efficient with a hand gun requires constant and studied practice.
The cost of hiring range-masters, hiring or building pistol and rifle ranges for the daily use of police in every police district, the need to purchase enough weapons for everyone and the legal ramifications of having openly armed police on the streets concerns the police administration.
The other side of the coin is that as an employer the police is legally required to provide a safe working environment for its staff.
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Up until the last few years I was against a general open arming of our police but times and society change. I, sadly, see the day coming when this will happen. After any police shooting there is, quite rightly, a homicide inquiry, a Coroners Inquest and an IPCA inquiry into the actions of the shooting police. It worries me that, without sufficient and intensive training, mistakes can happen. It also worries me that police may, during arrest situations, be shot with their own weapons, a significant cause of death for police in the USA.
If the decision is made to openly and generally arm New Zealand's police then a significant increase in the police budget will be needed annually to fund training sessions for all the 8800 sworn police staff who work our streets night and day trying to protect us.
I really hope that the cost factor will not be a reason to continue to place these men and women, who have all taken an oath to protect our community, at, on occasions, needless risk of death and injury. As a society we all have a duty to protect our police. The Government needs to remember that when the police come calling for more money.