Police Association President Chris Cahill has commended officers for their "exceptional" response to the March 15 terror attack in a moving speech at the organisation's annual conference.

And he says the most important thing for police in the wake of the Christchurch mosque shootings is to be determined in their pursuit of preventing similar events in future.

Cahill opened the 84th annual Police Association Conference in Wellington this morning with an emotional address to members - some of whom were on the front line in Christchurch on what has become known as the country's darkest day.

"The year 2019 will, for New Zealanders, be defined by the Christchurch attacks of March 15," said Cahill.

"For the association, it will be defined by the exceptional response from our members across every aspect of policing – from the frontline, STG and AOS, the comms centres, forensics, CIB and everywhere in between.


"It was also a time of outstanding leadership."

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Cahill acknowledged that for police, keeping Kiwis safe can be "physically and mentally relentless".

"In a single day, no other job goes from holding someone at gunpoint to comforting another in the depth of despair," he continued.

"All in a day's work for policing means anything is possible, and probable.

"Never in this country's modern history has any event come near to a representation of the extremes required of policing than March 15's horrific attacks at two mosques, filled with people at prayer.

"As a country we did not lose our innocence – our innocence was taken, and while we will never forget the act, our strength is in our unified determination to foil any repeat.

"As a country, that is the very least we can do for the survivors of Christchurch.


"As a country, we must follow through for our families, friends, fellow New Zealanders, and for ourselves."

Cahill said for the association, Christchurch meant immediate action to safeguard members so they were able to look after others.

"I acknowledge the role of all police, from the young recruit on scene-guard duty three days into her job, all the way to the Commissioner whose leadership gave assurance to all New Zealanders and to his troops when they needed it most," he said.

Cahill said following the massacre it was "immediately clear" to him that the event was "overlaid with another context".

"Christchurch was the worst imaginable of the potential firearms catastrophes many of us in policing have dreaded for some time," he explained.

"This is why the association is fully supportive of the Government's crackdown on the types of firearms that so quickly killed 51 people.

"These weapons have no place or purpose in our communities – urban or rural."

Cahill praised the Government's gun buyback scheme. Photo / NZ Herald
Cahill praised the Government's gun buyback scheme. Photo / NZ Herald

The association endorsed the buy-back and the legal moves to rid New Zealand of firearms that Cahill describes as being weapons designed "to kill people, not pests".

"We will champion the Arms Legislation Bill all the way to the Governor General's royal assent," he said.

"We will do this because the changes will make New Zealand safer and that means our members will be safer."

Cahill said the strengthening of arms legislation was "long overdue" but at the same time, was a "meaningful response to the tragedy of Christchurch".

"It will ensure a future New Zealand will not be looking back over its shoulder knowing it has failed to act," he said.

"in the aftermath of Christchurch we were forced to do just that in acknowledging we failed to heed the lessons of Aramoana.

"We have witnessed the failure of countries to enact meaningful firearms reform while their citizens are killed in the thousands.

"As a nation, our response to Christchurch set us apart and we must continue until the job is done."

The association's 2019 biennial Member Survey was conducted after the Christchurch attacks and Cahill said he was interested to see if there was an "correlating surge, or drop, in police and public attitudes to general arming" of the force.

"More than half of constabulary are now satisfied with the current access to firearms – up from 44 per cent in 2017 to 53 per cent this year," Cahill revealed.

"On the frontline that satisfaction level is 68 per cent.

"Support for general arming has remained at 66 per cent, with the percentage higher amongst road policing.

"What is worth noting is that public support for general arming has jumped from 55 per cent to 61 per cent – the highest level across the six surveys dating back to 2008."

The conference runs for several days and will focus on the changing face of organised crime in New Zealand with a number of expert speakers from within police and beyond.

In his opening speech Cahill also addresses the increase in police numbers.

"Police continues to recruit new staff in record numbers and compared with just two years ago, there are now more than 780 additional officers on the streets of New Zealand," he said.

"These officers are supported by an additional 750 police employees, many of whom are deployed into the communications and the single non-emergency number centres.

"My intel from the districts is the extra numbers are beginning to make a noticeable difference in frontline policing.

"That is where we must make sure the majority of new recruits go - into our communities.

"We all know communities will notice a drop in crime rates and benefit from the general wellbeing that comes with safer environments."

The difference will also be felt by actual police, Cahill said.

While recruiting was positive - he said more work and "close attention" was needed around road policing.

"Our road toll is already at 259 deaths for 2019 with two and a half months to go," he stated.

"The severity of the concern for our members is reflected in a jump from 37 per cent to 51 per cent of road police who do not believe they are receiving adequate resourcing."