Police in Canterbury are on the beat today with pistols in holsters and it could spell the beginning of officers routinely carrying firearms, Police Association president Chris Cahill says.
Canterbury District Commander Superintendent John Price announced yesterday that frontline staff would carry guns in their holsters until further notice to protect officers and the public.
Frontline police have firearms in their vehicles.
Police Minister Stuart Nash said it was a rare event and a temporary measure.
Police figures show a firearm was presented at a police officer 17 times in 2017 and there were four incidents of officers being shot at.
The move was triggered by a shootout between police and a gunman in a suburban street on Tuesday evening which police later revealed was linked to a Saturday incident where shots were fired at officers.
The gunman from Tuesday night is in hospital with serious injuries.
Mr Nash is backing the decision but insists it does not mean that routine arming of the police is a step closer. He would not be interviewed; neither would Mr Price despite repeated requests for an interview.
Police Association president Chris Cahill told Morning Report routine arming of police could be where New Zealand was heading.
Mr Cahill said this would be "unless we do something about the number of firearms that have fallen in the hands of criminals, we could well end that way".
The risk seems to be ever increasing, although police would prefer that it was safer and so that they did not have to carry them, he said.
He would like to see a review of the Arms Act and general arming of police needed to be a political debate, he said.
He said arming police in Canterbury was a good outcome of risk assessment and analysing the information police have.
"Clearly police have looked at the risk that this offender poses, obviously the incidents on Sunday and again on Tuesday have highlighted what risk these firearms present and they've decided in the interests of safety for both the police and the public, these police officers need to be armed, and I think it's a good call.
"The safest cause of action for police, but also the people of Canterbury, is to have those police officers armed and that should be reassuring for the public to know the police are in a position to protect them."
Only police officers who were fully trained would be carrying a firearm, he said.
However Barrister Nicholas Taylor, who specialises in firearms law, disagrees.
He told Morning Report police have "very inadequate training with their Glock 17 pistols and bushmaster rifles".
They are both powerful and long distance weapons, he said.
"If you're engaging with various offenders in built up areas, specialist training really needs to be employed so that innocent civilians don't get caught in the crossfire."
It was not the New Zealand way to have our police armed, he said
Mr Taylor said while the police area commander can use his discretion to do this, it needed to be under exceptional circumstances with sufficient evidence.
"I'm not sure entirely why the decision has been made, it hasn't been made extremely clear to the New Zealand public ..."
Police have carried guns in the past because an active shooter is being pursued, he said.
"This is a bit unusual, this is a bit different to that."
Mr Cahill told Morning Report yesterday Police Association members were sending in reports every week of finding people in possession of firearms, though he provided no figures.
"You've got the trifecta these days; you've got drugs, you've got gang members, you find a firearm - and that's right across New Zealand," he said.
Mr Cahill said there were many more where firearms were found, and police were only starting to record those in some districts.
"You've got to look at incidents where firearms are in possession of people because that can turn into dangerous incidents," he said.