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Armed police units proposed

Published: 11:09AM Saturday June 14, 2008 Source: ONE News

Armed police units may be patrolling some of New Zealand's most dangerous streets by the middle of next year.
A spate of violent crime has forced police to reconsider its policy of being generally unarmed.

Designed to stop people in their tracks, police are considering using tasers and increasing the use of existing firearms to hit back at criminals on high risk Auckland streets.

Police have been looking at alternative ways to respond to emergencies since January. The proposals include using rostered patrol cars manned by firearms specialists.  Officers would be armed with an advanced type of Taser, Bushmaster rifles and nine-millimetre Glock pistols.

Police say they have the tools to combat criminals when they're up close but when there's more than seven metres between them, they're vulnerable.

"There's no change to the status quo, in that a cornerstone of the New Zealand policing model is that police are unarmed. It's critically important however that we have an armed response capability," says Superintendent John Rivers of National Police Headquarters.

But critics say the firearms proposals represents a fundamental change to policing.

"Is this going to be some kind of intimidatory force that goes in saying 'we've got guns, get down on the ground' 'cause you're wearing a hoodie?" says Barry Wilson  of the Auckland Council of Civil Liberties.

The firerarms units would be used to respond to armed incidents like the shooting of Manurewa liquor store owner Navtej Singh last week.

Some in the community there are resigned to the use of guns on their streets.

"The people they're trying to catch are getting armed, so they've got to protect themselves," says one person.

But for others the thought of armed police patrolling the streets is frightening.

"A lot of people could get injured and that it could be seriously dangerous for the public," says one resident.

The proposals will be given to the police commissioner by August. If approved, patrols could begin next year.

But for the critics, that is one step closer to a police state.