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NSW "gobsmacked" at NZ's unarmed force

Published: 8:22PM Sunday August 29, 2010 Source: ONE News

Australian police are astounded New Zealand officers go on the beat without a gun.

In New South Wales 16,000 police are holstered up and regard it as just part of their uniform.

Australia's police association president told TVNZ's Sunday programme that a gun on a policeman's belt is a visible deterrent.

"As an Australian police officer going to New Zealand and seeing officers walking around in some violent areas without a firearm on their hip, to me it's just crazy," Sergeant Scott Weber said.

He said it's a massive cultural shock for Australian officers visiting New Zealand.

Arming the police not only stops criminals attacking officers out on the street but also demands respect when they turn up to a violent situation, said Weber.

He said he was "gobsmacked" when he first went to New Zealand on official capabilities.

"It was unbelievable to me that a police force did not have access to firearms on their hips."

And he said claims New Zealand doesn't need to arm its police because it is a safe country are not borne out by statistics. New Zealand has 8,700 officers while New South Wales has 16,000 but over the last  two years nine officers have been shot in New Zealand with two deaths, while only one officer has been shot and wounded in NSW.

The injured NSW officer was hailed a hero when he carried on to fire his weapon and rescue a hostage. He said the situation would have been much worse if he didn't have access to a firearm.

Weber said New South Wales is watching the rising casualty rate among their Kiwi colleagues with growing concern and people are "putting their heads in the sand" if think society is still safe.

He said his experience is that if an armed officer is at the scene the offender tries to leave or to stop their action. The weapon acts as a deterrent, said Weber.

"It would scare me working in New Zealand turning up to some of the violent situations there and not having that option."

New South Wales police told Sunday that being armed has "absolutely saved lives".

Inspector Steve Eggington said it's drilled into officers that safety is paramount and they have good appreciation of what the weapon can do and the safety procedures wrapped around it.

Training is strict and "if they don't meet the standard they won't become a police officer", Eggington said.

NSW officers are retested every year and recruits train on a state-of-the-art simulator.

Eggington said they experience firing simulated ammunition against computer-generated people in a test of their ability to distinguish between friend from foe.

Mixed feelings in NZ

But former officer Nigel Hendrikse said it's time for the NZ police to be carrying a gun on their holster.

"When you look at them you don't mess with Australian police," he said.

The New Zealand father of three can barely walk after being injured in a vicious attack.

And he believes he would still have the job he loved if he had been armed when John Gillies stabbed him three times.

"Had I had a gun and he had come at me I would have just shot him - end of story."

In New Zealand when police are presented with a gun they have to radio for back up and only selected cars are issued with weapons.

A floor safe at the driver's feet contains a 9mm Glock handgun and two magazines while the rear gun safe has a further two Glocks and two rifles.

But Sergeant Mark Williams said while it sounds complicated to issue a weapon, and the paperwork is detailed, it is very familiar to the officers concerned and senior police say procedures can be bypassed if the bullets are flying.

But Weber questions why have firearms if they're locked away in a safe. He said time can spell the difference between life or death and most situations occur in a split second.

"Why would you give them any more time or capability to hurt a police officer or hurt the community," he asked.

But Labour MP Jacinda Ardern said if you go down the path of routinely arming police it's a Pandora's Box which can't be closed.
Ardern is a police officer's daughter but said for her it's debatable whether arming them will increase their safety.
She said she still doesn't believe this would make NZ police and the communities they look after safer.
But Hendrikse said the criminals have already got guns to protect their drug dealings.

And Weber said it is a last resort and police are specially trained to deal with those situations.

"If it saves one life then it has paid for itself already."