Arming police to become major political issue -- O'Connor

Police Association President Greg O'Connor
Police Association President Greg O'Connor

Four police officers shot in a drug operation gone wrong, and a siege that lasted almost 24 hours.

The alleged gunman 27-year-old Rhys Warren's been charged with four counts of using a firearm against police.

Police Association President Greg O'Connor has long warned that police are dealing with an ever-increasing number of armed offenders and says the latest incident comes as no surprise.

The former officer once took an adamant stance against guns, but now acknowledges times have changed.

He told the Paul Henry Programme this morning that 70 percent of frontline staff feel they need to be armed, but it is a contentious issue.

"If we start talking about arming police then it becomes polarised -- it becomes like the flag debate.

"We can talk about arming police, but everybody will go into their own corners and nothing will be done."

Mr O'Connor insists the focus should be put on trying to work out how criminals are getting their firearms, but says he expects the issue of arming police will take a political turn, especially before next year's election.

"Believe me by next year, I believe it will be an election issue the political parties will be climbing over each other trying to get policies changed."

He says it's usually the older generation officers, who are now in police administration, that largely oppose changing police gun policies. However, after spending time with officers in Whakatane on the night shift, he believes they'd soon change their mind if they saw what staff are dealing with.

Labour MP Annette King also spoke to Paul Henry on the issue this morning. She says as the former Police Minister, she is generally not in favour of arming officers.

"As you know, police have access to weapons and so they should. But general arming where they walk with guns on their hip, no I am not in favour. I am in favour of finding out why so many guns are sold, how easily they are sold, and where are they getting them from."

Mr O'Connor says after meeting with the officers shot in Kawerau, he acknowledges that repeat incidents in which officers are hurt have a great impact on family and colleagues too.