4 Mar 2019

Arming frontline police officers will not be routine - Police Commissioner

1:56 pm on 4 March 2019

The Police Commissioner says there is not a move towards routine arming of frontline officers in response to the increased threat of armed criminals.

Police generic

Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

Mike Bush told Morning Report although there were numerous stakeholders to be consulted and that opinion was divided, police had operational independence in the matter.

He said he had no intention of making the decision to routinely arm police.

"It is one you can never go back on and it means you fundamentally change the way you police in New Zealand," he said.

"We should really protect the relationship that the New Zealand police have with the public... We have 79 percent trust and confidence of the public, that's really high for a law enforcement agency anywhere in the world and we jealously guard that."

His comments came as police yesterday lifted the order for frontline officers in Canterbury to be armed, after the arrest of a 20-year-old man.

The district commander made the decision for officers to be armed after two occasions when police were shot at in Christchurch.

The 20-year-old has been charged with using an imitation gun against police and will appear in Christchurch District Court today.

Mr Bush said anecdotal evidence suggested armed crime has increased and an improved systems of data collection being put in place by police would indicate that.

"What we need to do is keep firearms out of the hands of bad people who want to use them against the public, which includes the police," he said.

A district commander of any of the 11 police districts can make the call to arm frontline officers, but Police Association president, Chris Cahill, said it had to be based on solid intelligence.

He said in the case in Christchurch shots were fired at police and there was clearly a significant risk and there had been on a number of other occasions in the last few years where arming frontline officers had been used around New Zealand.

"And rightly so, the public have the right for the police to have the correct equipment to protect the public and themselves, and that's what's required when there's firearms being used by offenders."

Arming frontline officers had happened on four occasions in Canterbury in the last two years and there had been several other times in other parts of the country when it had happened, Mr Cahill said.

Mr Cahill said it happened more often than people realised, which reflected the number of firearms being used to commit offences.

A Christchurch woman is relieved the arms order for police to carry arms in Canterbury has been rescinded, because a stray bullet flew through the window of the community house she manages during a confrontation between the police and a wanted man last Thursday.

The bullet entered Avebury House in Richmond during an exchange of fire, terrifying a community group inside.

The community house's manager, Tanya Didham, said the police told her it was either a panic shot fired by an officer, or a bullet that ricocheted.

She's glad it is not routine for officers to carry firearms.

"I think in New Zealand that don't want guns on hips, I think it's fine to have guns being carried in cars for these sorts of situations ... but I think the key thing is really is that if police are going to carry arms that they need to have really comprehensive training."