New Zealand / Crime

Police union demands more safety for officers after shooting incidents

08:31 am on 16 July 2021

The Police Association is demanding improvements to make frontline police officers feel safer.

Scene of the shooting in Penrose. Photo: RNZ/Kate Gregan

Two separate shootings - one in Hamilton and one in Auckland - within the space of 24 hours, has shone a spotlight on the threat being posed to officers.

It comes as the trial continues of the man accused of killing constable Matthew Hunt during a routine traffic stop in Massey just over a year ago.

The Auckland incident yesterday began at Church Street in the suburb of Penrose as a man walked into a second-hand car dealership.

"Somehow he went into our office, he took six keys in total," owner of Youth Garage, Wilson Zhu recounted.

He said he was just driving into the caryard when he saw the person sitting in the BMW X5 in the car yard.

"I tried to stop him, I went out of the car and tried to stop him, but he just tried to run into me, so I dodged that but he just went out of the gate."

He immediately called the police, who then used a helicopter to follow the man's movements.

The man crashed the car outside a Z petrol station on Great South Road.

He then commandeered a new car after holding a gun to a member of the public's head, as police shot at him.

He fled south, crashing this car as well at the junction of the Southeastern Highway, ending up wedged between two cars.

Once again he held his gun to a member of the public's head.

When that bystander fled - the offender was then shot in the torso by the police.

Police Association President Chris Cahill said both this event, and the one late on Wednesday night in Hamilton where police shot and killed another person, would have an impact on the entire force.

"It's just cementing that idea that the risks out there are greater, and increasing all the time.

"This is something our officers have been talking about for several years - the growing risk of firearms incidents they're going to be involved with."

"We've had three significant incidents in a week, but there's many other events police officers have been involved with that haven't made the headlines that could have turned into these situations, but for an offender not reacting."

He said the gun buyback scheme and the gun registry would help in the medium to long term.

Scene of the Hamilton shooting. Photo: RNZ / Andrew McRae

Shorter term, he wanted to see the deployment of armed offender squads streamlined. He argued it currently took too long.

"Obviously the model of AOS officers is a call-out to deploy from far away, they have to go in, arm themselves, and then go to the job. That creates significant delay.

"Having a model that would allow more highly trained officers with firearms to deploy quicker - that's something that needs to be investigated."

He also wanted better and more frequent training for officers, some of whom, he said, did not get much extra training after they graduated.

Police Commissioner Andrew Coster said he was looking at getting more frontline officers trained with similar skills to members of the Armed Offenders Squad.

Coster said 650 officers had already gone through an enhanced frontline training course.

"We need to make sure have the right capability available to deal with situations that present," he told Morning Report.

"This is about when you deal with the most difficult situations can you mobilise the staff fast enough. The Armed Offenders Squad sees us do that on a callout type basis whereas we could have that skill set available more readily on our shifts if we trained staff to that level."

Offenders have had guns for some time but the difference now was they were more willing to use them - on each other and occasionally on police - he said.

"Offenders have often carried firearms over time, what we're seeing now is a greater willingness to use them" - Police Commissioner Andrew Coster

Coster was confident new gun laws would over the long term reduce the number of firearms in the hands of criminals.

"This is a long term game. We are recovering firearms that have been stolen that have been purchased because they were available for sale over quite a few years and it takes quite a long time to get to the better place but the foundation is there now for that change to occur."

The recent series of incidents left police and the public feeling shaken but they were were still relative rare in New Zealand, Coster said.

Police Minister Poto Williams said some changes had already been made - such as the trial of the Frontline Safety Improvement Programme set up Police Commissioner Andrew Coster in the wake of constable Matthew Hunt's death.

"From the reports I'm getting back from officers who are undertaking that, it's actually making a real difference.

"Recently the commissioner and I spoke about how we can roll that out further, and what other measures we can take to support the police."

She said, while police remain unarmed for "very good reasons", she was looking into making changes.

"There are some great specialist teams and there might be a need to look at how we put other specialist teams in place, or other ways we can support the police to do the job that they do.

"One of the things that was raised was about the potential for double crewing."

The Police Association supports double crewing as well, pointing to research out of the UK which shows it is both safer, and more productive.