5 Aug 2021

General arming of police not the answer, say Ardern, Minister Williams, Commissioner Coster

4:44 pm on 5 August 2021

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Police Minister Poto Williams, and Police Commissioner are remaining firmly against the general arming of police, despite 73 percent of frontline officers favouring the move.

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Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

A survey of almost 6000 Police Association members revealed the statistic this morning, the highest level of support for general arming it had recorded in a decade.

Coster has previously ruled out general arming. He said it was tempting to reach for simple solutions in the face of attacks on police - like the one in 2020 that left constable Matt Hunt dead - and general arming was one.

However, evidence showed it would not make police safer, he said.

"We want to make sure our people are safe but we do not see general arming as the answer to that," Coster said.

"The evidence that we have available to us suggests that being armed doesn't necessarily improve officer safety but more people are likely to be shot and so we have to select the things that will make the biggest difference.

"For every incident where you can point to where it would have made our people safer, you can point to others where it would likely have made things worse ... we have a lot of incidents we can point to where people have made the right decision to withdraw for their own safety and have apprehended the offender later. Having a firearm in those situations could well lead to escalation."

He said police were independent from politics, and his role was to understand what the community would want and expect from policing, and factor that into the organisation's decision making.

"Our responsibility is to look across all of our settings and decide what would make our people the safest.

"I'm not feeling particular political pressure on this issue, I have my own view of what the right thing to do is and that's what I'm sticking with."

Speaking in Christchurch this afternoon, Ardern said it had been a debate as long as she could remember but general arming was "personally not one that I would want to see occur".

"I've long been of that view and I share that view as the daughter of a policeman ... the safety of our police is top of mind, that's why quick access to arms when our police need them is critical."

She said what was important was that police have good, quick access to arms when they needed them.

"At the same time, general arming would mean our New Zealand police force at all times carrying a weapon on their person. That is a significant step change."

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Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

"It's a very big difference to say having them available quickly in their vehicles to them carrying with them 24/7."

Police Minister Poto Williams also opposed general arming.

"I have always been really clear that I do not believe in general arming of police," she said.

Poto Williams

Police Minister Poto Williams Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

"It fundamentally changes our relationship with the police. We have a relationship that's about trust and approachability and general arming will fundamentally change that."

She said she was "absolutely" concerned with the statistic that 25 percent of general duties staff had been confronted with a gun, and Coster was working on other measures to improve safety for officers.

"It's my role to do everything I can to support them to be safe. It's my belief that there is more we can do in this space before general arming becomes an option and I'm firmly committed to looking at those options to keep them safe."

She would not rule in or out any specific measures at this stage, however.

"We're already quite heavily armed anyway as a service. I'm not going to rule in options or rule out options."

Ardern said it was also a decision for police themselves to make, but said she knew Police Commissioner Andrew Coster also did not support the constant carrying of weapons as side arms.

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