No move to arm police despite attacks

MICHAEL DALY AND JODY O'CALLAGHAN
Last updated 05:00 29/12/2012

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Renewed calls for police to carry firearms in the wake of attacks on officers are failing to gain momentum among policy makers.

The debate was reignited after four incidents during the holiday period, including one in Dargaville in which an officer was beaten unconscious and had his Taser taken from him.

Yesterday Hawke's Bay police reported another incident, early on Christmas Day, in which two officers were allegedly threatened by a man with known gang connections who was wielding what turned out to be a fake gun.

Police were fortunate not to be dealing with the homicide of two officers, Hawke's Bay Senior Sergeant Luke Shadbolt said.

Mr Shadbolt, who is also vice-president of the Police Association, repeated a call for general arming of officers, meaning they would carry firearms at all times.

Association members were increasingly asking for general arming, he said.

"We think it's probably about time that that debate was held."

He said the Christmas Day incident happened after officers were called to a Hastings home just after midnight to seize a stereo system that had drawn noise complaints.

A 44-year-old man is alleged to have leapt out of the darkness and threatened to stab one of them.

The stereo was removed and police left, but the man allegedly turned up at Hastings police station about 3.30am in an "agitated state".

After threatening to stab a constable, he lifted a realistic-looking imitation firearm to his waist, pointing it at another officer. He then fled, dropping the gun, and was arrested on his way out.

Vincent Carmel Mizzi, unemployed, of Hastings, has been remanded in custody on charges of assault, threatening to kill, and possession of a weapon.

Mr Shadbolt said the incident highlighted that what appeared at first to be "run of the mill" callouts often left officers facing armed offenders. "You never know which one is going to blow up and escalate.

"Being generally armed is becoming increasingly more necessary. It certainly is a nationwide view [among police]."

But Judith Collins - former police minister and current justice minister - has reacted warily to the suggestion.

"As we've seen in Dargaville, where a Taser was taken off a police officer, if that was a gun we'd probably be going to a funeral actually, for a police officer," she told NewstalkZB.

In recent years police had been provided with better access to firearms, as well as Tasers.

"But . . . firearms in a close situation with a lot of people around can be extraordinarily dangerous for everybody concerned, not only for the offenders, but for police officers and for any innocent people."

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Police Commissioner Peter Marshall was not available for comment yesterday. In the past he has said he had not seen or heard anything that convinced him the general arming of police would improve the safety of police officers or the public.

Kim Workman, director of Rethinking Crime and Punishment, disputed suggestions that policing was becoming more dangerous. The rate of assault per sworn police officer had barely changed over the past decade, he said.

The call to arm police was "a calculated attempt to create unjustified public fear".

The last time it happened was in February 2010, when there were three serious assaults on police in a week, Mr Workman said.

"It was quickly followed by the police union claiming that the public had lost respect for the police, and that such assaults were on the increase.

"None of that was true - general public confidence in the police is very high, and the rate of assault per sworn police officer has barely changed over the last 10 years."

Reform of liberal liquor laws would achieve more than arming police, he said.

- Fairfax Media

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