Long-standing Police Association president Greg O'Connor will stand down from the top position, saying returning to a "beat cop" again is an option when his term expires next year.

Mr O'Connor's announcement at the Police Association Conference in Wellington this afternoon was the first public confirmation of his plans.

It's understood election to the top job in the association is often highly politicised, and there was a perception among some police Mr O'Connor had been in the job too long.

Mr O'Connor told NZME News Service when some people asked him how long he'd been in the job for, he took that as a signal it might be time to move on.

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But he said the election process was much less politicised than in some overseas police forces.

"I hope that it will be a relatively smooth transition. It's a democracy, so the members will choose."

Mr O'Connor has frequently weighed in on the highly contentious topic of arming police, and often called for the routine arming of frontline response police officers.

Successive Governments have not displayed the same enthusiasm.

But Mr O'Connor suggested today the issue was more nuanced than was sometimes presented.

"I think most New Zealand police would be happy if we didn't have to arm."

Instead, Mr O'Connor said he wanted the Government to "look at the situation" and seriously investigate the risk to police from armed offenders.

Authorities were waiting for gun crime statistics to "catch up" with feedback from concerned police officers, he said.

The belief New Zealand was largely free of pistols and semi-automatic weapons was a fallacy, Mr O'Connor said.

His comments came shortly before a man was seriously injured tonight in a shooting in Otara, South Auckland, and the same day TV3's Story programme triggered debate about the ease with which unlicensed people could buy guns online.

It was high time New Zealand's firearm laws were reviewed, Mr O'Connor said, and the prevalence of guns here acknowledged.

Some common category A firearms could easily be turned into a military-style semi-automatic (MSSA) weapons, he said, which were supposed to fall into the much more restrictive category E.

"There's lots of pistols out there. The criminal fraternity, the gang community, have ready access to firearms and use them, mostly against each other, to threaten each other or just to show off," he said.

"You can buy a semi-automatic in New Zealand. You can't in Australia."

He was focused on completing his term and would probably explore several options for what to do later, Mr O'Connor said.

"I'm only in my 50s - what am I going to be when I grow up?" he joked.

"I'm a sworn police officer. I can go back to the beat. There's a lot of men in their 50s who'd love to be a cop."

Reflecting on the past 20 years, Mr O'Connor said one of the worst moments of his presidency was witnessing the treatment of the police officer who shot Waitara man Steven Wallace in 2000.

The policeman, Keith Abbott, faced a private prosecution for murder.

Mr O'Connor described Mr Abbott as "a truly innocent man who just did what was expected of him".

It was painful for him to watch Mr Abbott publicly vilified, Mr O'Connor said.

Mr Wallace's family brought a private prosecution against the officer, but he was acquitted after a trial.

The Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) also cleared Mr Abbott, eight years and eleven months after the shooting.

Mr O'Connor said he still believed New Zealand had one of the world's best police forces.

This was because it was a cohesive, national force, and the product of a society that was both non-corrupt and "nimble" or highly efficient, he said.

"You show me a corrupt police and I'll show you a corrupt society," he told NZME News Service.

"It's easy enough for me to say I've never taken a bribe in 40 years in the police. But I've never been offered a bribe - and there's probably not many police officers around the world who'd say that."

He was sometimes aghast when people told him New Zealand ought to look abroad, such as to the USA, for better policing models, he said.

"People moan about MPs travelling. Every MP should travel every year, just to see how bad things are overseas, so they don't make stupid decisions here that are ruining the things that make New Zealand good."