Once upon a time, England was known for the fact that its police didn’t carry firearms. At least by Americans, whose law enforcement officials have been armed and dangerous for well over a hundred years. The UK’s rep for non-ballistic solutions to criminal problems outlasted the reality. British police began the transition with specially-trained armed response units, steadily and inexorably moving towards in-car weaponry for increasing numbers of police, to po-po strolling the streets of The City with machine guns at the ready. Meanwhile, New Zealand has maintained the now-extinct tradition of unarmed police. But political pressure to arm the long arm of the law is growing. The New Zealand Herald reports that a recent violent attack against the police in otherwise sleepy Ngaruawahia—a confrontation that left two police officers with serious injuries—has added fuel to the debate over whether or not Kiwi cops should carry.
The attack has strengthened calls from the president of the Police Association, Greg O’Connor, for frontline staff to have firearms available as an option in their cars at all times.
Mr O’Connor said more police were shot or assaulted in New Zealand than in Australia – where officers carry side arms.
“The logic is Australian police are armed … New Zealanders feel unsafe because clearly if a police officer can’t look after themselves, then how safe is the general public,” he said.
“We are not saying arm, we are saying make firearms readily available so police officers in circumstances where they find themselves outnumbered … have that extra capability.”
Mr O’Connor said an opinion survey had shown that 50 per cent of police staff believed they should have firearms available to them. A slightly higher percentage of the public also agreed to arming the police.
Wikipedia reckons there are 230,000 registered firearms owners in New Zealand, who keep an estimated 1.1 million guns. It’s also worth noting that New Zealand has been arming its police force—with the Taser X26 (including incident recording software). According to Hawk’s Bay Today, Kiwi cops “presented” Tasers 132 times and fired the weapon 10 times since the non-lethal weapons hit the country’s relatively unmean streets.
The question remains: is it enough?