20 Jan 2015

Concern at lack of police gun training

7:39 pm on 20 January 2015

Frontline police officers are worried that they are not receiving enough training with their guns - with their live fire training being replaced with video simulator exercises.

Figures released to Radio New Zealand show the number of police firing their weapons in training each year has plummeted since the video simulators were introduced in 2012.

In 2011, police officers received training on Glock handguns and Bushmaster rifles 13,000 times.

The police union says frontline officers are concerned about lack of gun training.

Only 7500 live firearms assessments were conducted in 2014. Photo: 123RF

The following year, only 5000 live firearms assessments were conducted as police introduced video simulators. In 2014, it was 7500.

While New Zealand Police have said the simulators offer "realistic real-life" offender scenarios - the union which represents officers, the Police Association, said frontline police were worried.

Vice president Luke Shadbolt said while simulators have their place - they should not replace training with real guns.

"With the simulators you don't get used to the sound, the recoil and the muscle memory of actually using a proper functioning firearm - it's the lack of the physical side of live firing that the staff are commenting on."

Mr Shadbolt said the Police Association wants live fire training to return to pre-simulator levels.

"We need to maintain good levels of live firing so that the staff are actually familiar with handling firearms and how they react when you use them in real situations.

"We've had comments back from a number of staff and I think issues have been raised with police, as well as by staff, about the fact that, especially [with] staff who aren't familiar with handling firearms on a regular basis, the live firing is actually extremely beneficial for them."

New Zealand First police spokesperson Ron Mark said there was no substitute for firing real guns.

"It's one thing shooting in a nice-warm environment in an air-conditioned room at a target on a wall that is actually a video with a weapon that doesn't actually kick like a real weapon.

"It's something totally different to be out in the wind and the rain and be blown around with dust in your eyes and being asked to put rounds down the range and hit the target that you're aiming at," Mr Mark said.

And Labour's police spokesperson Kelvin Davis said police officers needed to be training with their guns - not playing elaborate video games.

"My son spends way too much time on an Xbox in his bedroom and he can probably outperform the average constable.

"But I'm concerned for the safety of the New Zealand public; it's essential police officers receive adequate training with firearms."

But not everybody agrees that simulators are not a suitable alternative to live firing.

National MP Judith Collins has undertaken both live firing training and video simulator exercises in her former role as police minister. She said the video simulators offer more life-like scenarios.

"One of the things on the live-range is that you're just shooting straight at a target, a target that is standing still. And that's actually not the way it is in real life.

"So the simulator actually gives an opportunity for police to have moving targets - people coming in and out of the picture, which in some cases I think is more realistic. So I'm sort of slightly bemused by what the Police Association says on that," Ms Collins said.

Police Minister Michael Woodhouse declined to comment on the reduction in firearms training for police - saying it was an operational matter.

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