Police carrying guns at all times may be 'inevitable' - Police Association

The president of the Police Association says it's only a matter of time until police carry guns at all times.

His comment comes as police search for a man in the central North Island who allegedly pulled a gun on two officers and stole their car on Saturday night. 

Chris Cahill says the incident highlights the risk that many officers face.

"It's pretty scary and it's just an add-on to so many others we've had," he told the AM Show on Monday.

Cahill says that in the six months since March this year, there have been 179 incidents where criminals have pointed a gun at either an officer or a member of the public.

"It's a bit more common than a lot of us realise," he says.

"It continues to be a big concern in New Zealand - there's just far too many firearms in the hands of criminals."

Cahill says around 72 percent of frontline officers in his association support being armed at all times.

"What are you going to say to those officers who get a gun pointed at them and have nothing to protect themselves with?"

He says the Government's gun buyback scheme introduced following the Christchurch mosque shootings is a great first step in limiting the number of firearms in circulation in the country.

"It's great those New Zealanders that are handing in their firearms," he says. "We know criminals arm themselves by stealing them from licensed firearm owners, so if we can get those sort of firearms out of the community and make sure security is better for the other firearms then there's less chance of criminals having them and New Zealand will be safer all around for that."

Unfortunately, he says, dangerous weapons won't disappear overnight, and increasingly police are needing to be armed more frequently than ever before.

"Police are generally armed more often than people realise - I mean there's so many dangerous incidents happening, when these criminals are out there the police have to be generally armed to protect the public."

He says officers may soon have no choice but to be armed at all times.

"Unless we do something about the proliferation of firearms out there I think it's going to be inevitable," he says.

"It's hard for me to take that big leap and say they need them on their hip all the time but I'm not the one out there in the dark at night getting a gun pointed at me, and they are the officers that are mostly saying they want to be generally armed. 

"And it's understandable when you see the risk they're taking."