Editorial: Case for arming police not yet made

Last updated 05:00 15/01/2013

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OPINION: Many questions remain about the events leading to Kawhia's sole police officer being attacked as he tried to arrest a wanted man.

They include why constable Perry Griffin's superiors thought it suitable for him to attempt the capture before the arrival of the reinforcements he had requested when there was deemed to be such a potential risk to his safety, he was authorised to take his pistol.

Whether Mr Griffin should have been left to encounter that risk on his own is one issue that must be addressed by the review the police are now conducting into the way the situation developed. It must also address the wider issue of whether Kawhia, which has been plagued by an unruly group of locals, should have more than one police officer.

What is beyond doubt is that the cowardly attack on Mr Griffin does not, as the Police Association claims, demonstrate the case for officers to carry firearms at all times. If it proves anything, it is how quickly situations can become very dangerous for police - and the public - if they are armed with guns as a matter of course.

Mr Griffin was wearing a Glock pistol when he was attacked by the group on Kawhia's wharf on Friday evening. During the assault, the firearm was dislodged. His Taser, which he had used on one of his attackers, was also ripped away and thrown into the water.

Had it not been for the quick actions of a bystander who secured the gun and handed it to volunteer firefighters called out to assist the lone constable, Mr Griffin's life might have been in great peril. The lives of the estimated 80 people milling around - some of them disgracefully egging on the attackers - might also have been placed in grave danger had the gun fallen into the wrong hands and been discharged.

The same dangers would have been present had Mr Griffin's Taser been a pistol. Likewise in the case of a Dargaville officer who had his Taser taken when he was attacked on Christmas Day. One of his assailants attempted to use the stun gun on him, but was unable to set it off.

As Whangarei area commander Inspector Tracy Phillips noted, had that officer been wearing a pistol, the outcome could have been very different. Guns are easier to use than Tasers.

Police Association vice-president Stuart Mills says Mr Griffin would have been spared the assault on him had his Glock been his ''primary weapon''. That ignores the reality that his attackers must have been able to see he was carrying a pistol. It also ignores the fact that Mr Griffin was attacked from behind as he tried to handcuff the main offender. His gun would have been little use to him.

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Sadly, we live in a world where police are occasionally required to use firearms to protect themselves and the public. However, those occasions are relatively rare and police already have access to guns when they are deemed absolutely necessary.

Indeed, Mr Griffin was wearing a pistol when he was assaulted. It did not prevent the attack and, had it been obtained by one of his assailants, could very well have been used against him.

- The Dominion Post

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