Police without firearms training could be on frontline

Frontline police say the nightmare has arrived and some officers who lack firearms training may be putting their lives at risk.

The Police Association said the Auckland City police district was now exempting strategic traffic unit (STU) staff and other front line staff in the central business district from firearms training.

The association said those staff were the most likely to be issued with firearms for deployment on armed cordons.

"The Police Association is strongly against any reduction in firearms training," said Steve Plowman, the editor of the association magazine Police News in its latest issue.

He said the decision was believed to have been made to reduce "training overhead".

It followed a national policy to introduce a three-tiered firearms training model which would lead to "position specific" exemptions. That could include officers working on youth aid and other police sections.

"The association is of the opinion that every police officer who is in public in uniform, should receive some level of firearms training."

He said police could find themselves in a life-threatening situation "in the blink of an eye". A youth aid officer was one of the first to respond an armed incident in Napier in May which turned into a fatal siege.

During that two-day siege police officer Len Snee was fatally shot and two others were wounded before gunman Jan Molenaar shot himself dead.

The magazine said the cost of ammunition was rising and under the proposed new tiered training structure "first responders" would get more firearms training, "secondary" responders would get rifle training only (and not hand gun training) and others would get no firearms training at all.

Labour's law and order spokesperson Clayton Cosgrove said it appeared cuts were biting into police training budgets.

"The news that firearms training is reportedly being cut in New Zealand's biggest city beggars belief," Mr Cosgrove said.

"If what the association says is correct, and there is no reason to doubt that, this is a matter of fundamental concern."

Police should not be routinely armed, but there was always a risk that front line staff will become involved in situations where they needed to be able to defend themselves and protect innocent New Zealanders, he said.

"All frontline staff should be trained to a minimum standard for their sake and ours"

Earlier this month the association released details of a survey which showed both the public and the police were warming to the idea of police being armed. It said 48 per cent of police employees were in favour of general arming, up from 26 per cent in 2005.

A corresponding shift in support was seen in public opinion, with 55 per cent in last year's survey wanting to see police armed, compared with only 33 per cent in 2003.

The survey followed the deaths of Mr Snee and fellow officer Don Wilkinson, who was shot dead by a high-powered air rifle during a police mission to plant a tracking device on a car in south Auckland.