O'Connor: 'Of course' violence is up, despite statistics

Police at the scene of yesterday's shooting in Upper Hutt (RadioLIVE)
Police at the scene of yesterday's shooting in Upper Hutt (RadioLIVE)

The Police Association believes official statistics which show violent crime has been dropping for years are wrong.

Association president Greg O'Connor says police have attended five incidents in the past month where the offender has been carrying a firearm, proving "there are people out there prepared to use firearms – not only against police, but also against each other".

"If these offenders are armed and out there confronting police, one can only imagine what those who are in the sphere of intimidation of criminal community, particularly the gangs, are having to put up with. Police are almost collateral," he said on the Paul Henry programme this morning.

Yesterday's incident in Upper Hutt was the third time police have fatally shot an armed suspect this year, the 30th in the force's history and the 11th since 2007.

"This belies the figures that are being spouted that [New Zealand is] a safer place," says Mr O'Connor. "Violence of course has not gone down."

But according to Statistics New Zealand, the number of offences recorded in 1994 was 447,525; in 2014 it was 350,389, despite a population increase of nearly 1 million.

Public order offences in the last two years have been down between 30 and 40 percent on 2009/10, and offences against "justice procedures, government security and government operations" have declined by a similar amount.

"Those figures that have gone down are the ones that I suppose are relatively easily counted," says Mr O'Connor.

What's changed in recent years, according to Mr O'Connor, is that more offenders seem to have access to firearms.

"It's incredibly easy to get hold of a firearm in New Zealand. Over 200,000 were imported between 2000 and 2009," he says.

"We only register the owners, so we don't really know how many [firearms] are out there. We know that a lot of them are turning up, and that is what has changed. We've always dealt with people with mental health issues, always dealt with people who are drunk, just bad people. What's different now is they've got firearms, and we really need to start asking the question as to why. What's changed?"

The statistics show the number of offences relating to "prohibited and regulated weapons and explosives" is trending down. After peaking in 2006 at 7838 recorded offences, last year there were 5791.

Arming the police won't fix the perceived problem overnight, says Mr O'Connor, but is a better option than officers on the beat without firearms having to rely on their Taser.

"A Taser is not an option against a firearm-wielding offender."

The identity of yesterday's Upper Hutt gunman is expected to be revealed today.

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