Competition for the worst idea of 2019 has been pretty lacklustre until now, but there is a strong late contender with the announcement that Armed Response Teams – cops with guns – will be patrolling parts of Counties Manukau, Waikato and Canterbury. The residents of Counties Manukau (i.e. south Auckland, i.e. Māori and Polynesian people), in particular, aren't happy at being singled out in this way.
At a time when two particularly heinous murders are before the courts, it can be difficult to keep our perspective about the best ways to best to manage law and order. Cops with guns isn't one of them.
The Christchurch mosque attack has been invoked by the police in explaining the need for the patrols. But the alleged shooter on that occasion was apprehended by unarmed – and incredibly courageous – police officers.
Our murder rate is one of the world's lowest, at seven killings per million people per annum, and is the lowest for this country in nearly half a century. It's still a lot worse than Japan's two per million, but it's a figure which has been improving consistently year by year, and all without arming the police any more than they have been for decades.
Firearms are not that common on the other side of the law either – they are used in less than 1 per cent of crimes.
It's their relative rarity that makes it so conspicuous and shocking when they are used – and that perhaps leads us not to think as clearly as we should when considering how best to deal with the problem.
Police have always had ready access to guns, but a visible armed presence is another matter entirely. New Zealanders are, by and large, gun averse. We find the sight of guns on the streets unsettling when we encounter them overseas.
We can't usefully compare gun use here to that in the US, where guns are not just politicised but fetishised. Around 1000 people are shot dead by police there every year. US police get shot too – an average of 85 per year since 1980 according to the FBI. Criminals who know they are at risk of being shot are quite likely to shoot first. Arming police actually puts them in danger.
Don't expect to see cops going gun crazy on the streets of south Auckland any time soon. The measure is a six-month trial - so they will be on their most restrained behaviour until that's over. They will be showing their best face to the community as they drive around the streets. A smile, a wave and a couple of rounds fired in the air to entertain the kiddies.
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Then they'll go full Yippee-ki-yay when the Armed Response Team programme is formalised and made permanent in time for the pack of wussy liberals who pass for our government to show that they are too tough on crime.
Advocates for an armed police force here are hard to find. What the public has asked for and what we know works, thanks to numerous overseas studies, is a more visible police presence – cops on the beat. In post 9/11 America, when possible terror threats were common, crime numbers fell in those areas where police were mobilised.
The alternative to being tough on crime isn't being soft on crime. It's being sensible on crime.
Perhaps the threat of a gun will be enough to deter some wrongdoers. But the possibility of a job, a home and food is likely to do more. That's not really the job of the police force. In the meantime, they should put down their guns and get on with their work.