Putting police at arm's length

WARWICK RASMUSSEN - DEPUTY EDITOR
Last updated 12:00 15/01/2013

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OPINION: Another police officer outnumbered and attacked and we find ourselves back at square one, debating whether our men and women in blue should be armed.

The Kawhia incident on the wild Waikato west coast over the weekend was ugly, cowardly and showed a lack of respect for law and order. The truth is that our officers are armed. At least, that is to say they have access to firearms.

They aren't part of the everyday equipment that officers carry, but they are not that far away.

The argument for and against arming officers goes a little like this. On the pro side, guns act as a deterrent. If an offender or potential offender knows that an officer has a weapon, they are more likely to comply. The weapons prevent more than they harm.

Anti-gun folk would have you believe that giving officers sidearms would be the next step on a slippery slope to becoming a mini-United States where guns and gun ownership have been normalised.

As is often the case, the truth lies somewhere in between.

It may not be the best gauge of how the two countries' police officers work, but next time you watch one of those reality shows check out the different approaches of Kiwi cops and their American counterparts.

The New Zealanders generally try to defuse a situation and talk through the issues, gain a bigger picture of what has happened and act from there. That's a far cry from the aggressive and arms-drawn attitude that prevails in the US.

Arming our police may act as a deterrent, but it dramatically raises the stakes, too.

Having that more relaxed, even approachable, police force will disappear overnight. The police will be viewed in a completely different light if they have guns at their sides.

Arming officers may be something of an inevitability but it is somewhat incongruous with the style of policing in New Zealand and would most likely be literal and figurative overkill.

ONE MORE THING...

Some 37 years ago New Zealand axed its compulsory superannuation scheme. It was a stupid move and one that forever changed the financial landscape of our country. It was a ridiculously short-sighted and selfish decision, the effects of which are still being felt today. A survey this week showed that about 75 per cent of people thought it was a poor move. Eventually more focus was put on saving for retirement and only then did it became clear we were a nation playing catch-up. Australia has had compulsory retirement savings for some time and so should we. It's just a shame the same foresight wasn't used back in the 1970s.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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