Key Points:

New Zealanders have changed their minds about an unarmed police force. More than half of those in a new survey want the police to carry firearms.

Just five years ago a majority were still opposed to the idea. Only 33 per cent supported it. Now 53 per cent would approve.

The survey of 500 people by Research New Zealand has also revealed that 44 per cent of the public are more concerned about their personal safety than they were last year.

People were asked: "How much do you approve or disapprove of the Police carrying guns?"

Police Association president Greg O'Connor said the findings reflected a nation worried by a steady increase in serious violent crimes, mostly related to methamphetamine.

"It's a clear reflection of the disturbed public feeling about the amount of violence out there," he said.

"What we would like to know is: would those 53 per cent of the public who are in favour of police carrying guns stand behind the police who use them?"

Mr O'Connor said the massive backlash after shooting incidents meant officers were becoming more afraid about shooting someone than of being shot themselves. Police did not share the public's support for carrying firearms.

Mr O'Connor renewed calls to adopt "a less than lethal" option, such as the controversial Taser stun guns.

Commissioner Howard Broad's decision on the Tasers is pending.

Mr O'Connor, who has himself been Tasered, said most police officers would prefer using the Taser, secure in the knowledge it was unlikely to be lethal.

"It's not a pleasant experience but it's something that's got no long-term implications at all."

A 2003 survey of association members showed that 64 per cent did not want, or were opposed to, the general arming of police, he said.

By 2005, that figure had risen to 69 per cent.

Green Party MP Keith Locke believed the number supporting armed police in the latest poll would be lower if the question had said "as a standard part of their equipment carried every day", or something like that. He did not think arming the police was necessary or useful.

"It leads to more crime, more violence, more killings - by criminals and by police."

National Party police spokesman Chester Burrows said the party had no plans to arm the police but the apparent change in public attitude was "interesting".

"It seems to come on the back of heightened violence and the number of murders recently," Mr Burrows said.

He said there would be peaks and troughs, depending on what was in the news.

"You wouldn't want to make a policy change on a one off pole of 500 people but we are interested in what seems to be a change of attitude," Mr Burrows said.

He said National believed the police needed an alternative to a firearm.

"On balance, in spite of some reports and international anecdotal evidence, using a taser on an offender who can't be controlled is a much better option for both sides," Mr Burrows said.

A spokesman for Minister of Police Annette King, John Harvey, said the sample was small and the minister would need to see the detail of the survey before making further comments.

He said the question respondents were asked was vague.

* The telephone survey was taken between June 25 and July 9, soon after three high-profile murders in South Auckland. The poll had a margin of error in +/- 4.5 per cent.

Call to arms

2003: 33 per cent of New Zealanders in favour of police carrying guns.

2008: 53 per cent approve of police carrying guns.