Michael Laws: Time to arm the police

Last updated 05:00 30/12/2012
Sunday Star-Times columnist Michael Laws: The partners of all criminals should be held liable if they know of their spouse's illegal activities.

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Every time a police officer is brutally attacked in this country - be they shot, stabbed or beaten - the NZ Police Association representing frontline staff provides the Pavlovian response. Arm the police, they ritually demand.

OPINION: In turn this provokes the equally Pavlovian response of the police hierarchy, the government of the day and numerous academics: No. Their collective rationale is that the police, and the public, will be in greater danger if our frontline against the ferals and the nutters have Glocks strapped to their waists.

This week, Justice (and former police) Minister Judith Collins led the charge. The police already have liberalised gun regulations, she argued. They can take arms to any incident deemed likely.

Which rather misses the point. Police have no idea how any situation might escalate or de-escalate when they receive that initial call. The ones in which they are injured or killed, tend to start from some mundane pretext. Incidents are generally deemed not likely - and then all hell breaks loose, as it did in Dargaville this week or in the driveway of Napier drug dealer Jan Molenaar in 2009.

Critics contend that had the police been armed - especially in the Dargaville case - it is more likely that they would have been shot.

That is nonsense. Two police personnel with pistols unsheathed would have been met with a very different response from the drunk/drugged partygoers.

And the inadequacy of the Taser was again demonstrated. It's not a weapon that you take to an aggressive mob. Nor is pepper spray - frankly, the idea that these standard weapons are effective in making foaming ferals think again, is just risible. Individually maybe; collectively - you have to be joking.

The problem with most politicians - and even the public - is that they do not appreciate the very real instabilities and dangers that our police daily encounter. Stronger drink and psychotic drugs have changed everything. So too have the almost nihilistic outlooks that pervade significant sections of our community.

Add the loonies - many off their medication and on something more illicit - and it's little wonder that the police have their recruiting issues.

Mind you, on that point, the cops are hardly helping themselves. Today's cops are definitely smaller and less physically able and intimidating than they were. Add the desire to increase the ranks of policewomen and make the police "more reflective of our wider society" and little wonder at the return of the runt brigade.

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Although police numbers are often quoted as being effective, the truth is that you wouldn't trust a lot of them in a bar fight or a suburban brawl.

Plus their training is deeply inadequate. It's ludicrously short and shallow. And that latter point ironically works for the arming naysayers. Which is why the police, when inevitably armed, will need to be much better trained before the public expresses confidence.

But it will come. And it will work. And even a year on, we will all wonder what the fuss was all about.


- Sunday Star Times


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