Gun violence 'out of control', majority of officers want to be armed - police association president

The Police Association President says gun violence is "out of control" and police are worried for their safety. 

In the past two weeks alone,  two officers were injured during an incident at an Auckland petrol station, two members of the public had a gun held to their heads during a car theft in Penrose, a man was shot and killed by police in Hamilton after a standoff and another officer was shot in the arm during a traffic stop in Hamilton. 

 Police Association President Chris Cahill told The AM Show on Tuesday the violence is "out of control".

"It's a change in society it's clear criminals now are very happy to assault and use firearms against police."

He says 1500 officers were assaulted last year, with 350 of those resulting in injuries. 

When it comes to why violence has increased so drastically, Cahill says he's not sure.

"I think there's a lot of things - some people would say it's violent video games that make people think violence is something you can get up and walk away from, others say it's gangs and obviously that's had an influence. There's a lot more of them and a lot more competition."

Wellington district commander superintendent Corrie Parnell says the prevalence of violence is "front of mind" for his police officers.

"It raises their anxiety. What's changed is the prevalence of our offenders using weapons on each other and on law enforcement - and there's not a district commander in the country that doesn't concern."

Cahill says he expects a large increase in the number of officers who want to be armed.The most recent survey on arming officers showed 69 percent wanted to have guns on them at all times, as opposed to just in the boot of their police car.

"I think it will be considerably higher [now]," he told The AM Show.

"It's these events not when they know there will be firearms bc they know they have to arm up its things like the routine traffic stops when all of a sudden a gun is presented to them - guns in the car are not much use then."

But Parnell says officers shouldn't hold their breath.

"Keeping our people safe is front of mind for us and always a concern…[in Wellington] we've just rolled out our body armour - they have tasers, sprays, systems to allow them to do their job and we're constantly assessing that environment."

The National Party is calling for the Government to bring back Armed Response Teams (ARTs) to support frontline officers.

"Armed Response Teams gave frontline police officers more support and more confidence when dealing with armed offenders and meant they knew there was specialist back up for acute situations," said National's police spokesperson Simeon Brown.

"With increased gang tensions and violence across New Zealand, it is time for the Government to swallow their pride, do the right thing and give our police the support they need."

ARTs were brought in last year for a six-month trial - however, data obtained by Newshub revealed they mostly responded to traffic stops rather than serious incidents. 

Action Station surveyed 1155 Māori and Pasifika people and found 85 percent of those surveyed did not support the trial going ahead, 87 percent felt less safe knowing there were armed police in their community and 91 percent would not call the police for help if they knew they had guns on them. 

The ARTs were widely condemned by Māori and Pasifika who are overly represented in police use of force statistics.

A 2019 report by the New Zealand police which analysed the use of force used by officers revealed Maori men between 17 and 40 accounted for 35 percent of all "tactical" responses (TOR) -  despite making up less than 3 percent of the general population.

A tactical response means a baton, TASER, pepper spray, firearms or empty hand force were used by police against a subject.

 Māori were overrepresented in use of force events, especially in relation to population numbers, with Māori subjects accounting for over half of all TOR events, more than all other ethnicities combined - despite the fact that Maori comprise just 17 percent of the general population. 

"At the most basic level, police use force in response to a subject’s behaviour," reads the report.

"However, NZ Police should also look for opportunities to help change the behaviour that leads to use of force. For instance, it may be that NZ Police tactical communication strategies are less successful in de-escalation for Māori males aged between 17 and 40 years old."