North & South - - Cover Story -


For the long­est time, we’ve main­tained the fic­tion of an un­armed po­lice force in New Zealand, with ri­fles and pis­tols ap­pear­ing on the streets only as part of an Armed Of­fend­ers Squad call- out. Now news-clips reg­u­larly fea­ture Kiwi po­lice tot­ing Glock pis­tols and AK47style as­sault ri­fles. That’s be­cause al­most ev­ery front­line pa­trol car car­ries them. In fact, the New South Wales po­lice union is ag­i­tat­ing to be armed to the same level as our cops are.

If, for years, the guns have been hid­den in plain view, what about the use of them? Ac­cord­ing to a po­lice tac­ti­cal options re­port, firearm de­ploy­ment (where firearms are car­ried to an in­ci­dent) went from 293 in 2012 to 361 in 2014 (the most re­cent fig­ure). New Zealand has had five po­lice fa­tal shoot­ings in the past 12 months alone – the most re­cent in Welling­ton on Fe­bru­ary 26, when a man stopped by po­lice was shot dead af­ter he got out of his car and ap­proached of­fi­cers while armed with a knife.

Taken on av­er­age, over the past 10

yeqarusi,ent,ecwarze­feuall,awndor­pldo-lic­cleas­f­sat­paol­l­ly­ic­si­hnogt. cit­i­zens at twice the rate of Vic­to­ria ( pop­u­la­tion, six mil­lion). Com­pared with world- class po­lice forces such as the English and Ger­man, New Zealand po­lice kill at closer to 10 times the rate. Lon­don bob­bies are still not armed with Tasers or sidearms on pa­trol. TASERS Since Tasers were rolled out in 2010, use of firearms has ac­tu­ally in­creased, which fol­lows over­seas trends. The Queens­land po­lice author­ity found po­lice firearm use had dou­bled since the in­tro­duc­tion of Tasers, from six per cent of all “use of force” in­ci­dents in 2007 to 12 per cent in 2009.

In New Zealand, Tasers were de­ployed 4196 times in the five-year pe­riod from 2010 to 2015, but fired only 623 times – roughly the same num­bers as in New South Wales, which has al­most twice the pop­u­la­tion. How­ever, it is not just the num­ber of dis­charges that is im­por­tant. Close study of de­ploy­ment shows that in al­most half the cases, Tasers are be­ing un­hol­stered to en­force com­pli­ance. A sim­i­lar mis­sion-creep has been ex­pe­ri­enced in Aus­tralia where, ac­cord­ing to the Queens­land po­lice author­ity, the threat of Taser use against those sim­ply re­sist­ing ar­rest with­out as­saultive be­hav­iour dou­bled from 22 per cent of cases in 2007 to 43 per cent in 2009. PUR­SUITS A re­quest made to po­lice failed to de­liver pur­suit fa­tal­ity fig­ures by presstime, but a review of me­dia re­ports shows 71 mostly young peo­ple have died in po­lice pur­suits since 2000.

Vic­to­ria, West Aus­tralia and Tas­ma­nia have poli­cies where pur­suits are per­mit­ted only if the of­fender is high­risk or lives are threat­ened. When in­tro­duc­ing his state’s new pol­icy, Queens­land Po­lice Com­mis­sioner Ian Ste­wart said few pur­suits had ever met those cri­te­ria. In gen­eral, states that have adopted the vir­tual ban re­port no change in driver of­fend­ing and a dra­matic drop in in­jury and death. Since Tas­ma­nia adopted the pol­icy in 1999, there’s been just one fa­tal pur­suit.

In Fe­bru­ary, the IPCA urged NZ po­lice to review their pol­icy on chas­ing flee­ing drivers. Po­lice Com­mis­sioner Mike Bush de­nied any need for a pol­icy change: “It’s their choice as to whether or not they flee and it’s those peo­ple that put the pub­lic in dan­ger.” If some­one came up with a bet­ter pol­icy, he added, they would adopt it. DOGS Po­lice dogs are now bit­ing less often, with some 196 recorded in­juries in 2014. In 2003, while cov­er­ing a story for 60 Min­utes, I found that 673 peo­ple had been bit­ten by po­lice dogs in a sin­gle year, many se­ri­ously and with per­ma­nent in­juries. I set that fig­ure against the num­ber of ap­pre­hen­sions where dogs were in­volved in an in­ci­dent, and cal­cu­lated a bite ra­tio of more than 30 per cent, three times international stan­dards. In­cred­i­bly, the po­lice had never made that cal­cu­la­tion.

The fig­ures nec­es­sary to make an ac­cu­rate, updated cal­cu­la­tion have still not been re­leased to me, de­spite a re­quest last De­cem­ber. How­ever, close study re­veals that the dog sec­tion still records alarm­ing re­sults. Po­lice sta­tis­tics show Welling­ton po­lice dogs in 2014 bit and in­jured 43 peo­ple, com­pared to the South Auck­land fig­ure of just six bite vic­tims, for a sim­i­lar pop­u­la­tion. An­other out­lier was Can­ter­bury, with 34 bite vic­tims.

And still con­cern­ing is the un­known num­ber of in­no­cent home­own­ers and by­s­tanders be­ing bit­ten by po­lice dogs; they then often face a bat­tle for apolo­gies and com­pen­sa­tion. In 2010, one such vic­tim, who re­quired days of surgery af­ter be­ing mauled by a po­lice dog, was forced to deal with the stress and ex­pense of su­ing the po­lice in the Manukau Dis­trict Court.

Dis­miss­ing the $ 20,000 dam­ages claim, Judge Peter Spiller ruled that po­lice had to have re­gard to mem­bers of the pub­lic when de­ploy­ing po­lice dogs, but, “it has to be borne in mind that bit­ing is an in­her­ent risk of us­ing po­lice dogs in the de­tec­tion of crime and that the tort of neg­li­gence is sub­ject to the test of rea­son­able­ness”. +

A po­lice se­ri­ous crash in­ves­ti­ga­tor ex­am­ines a car that crashed into the wall of the Hast­ings Ex­hi­bi­tion Cen­tre fol­low­ing a po­lice chase in 2005. Po­lice say the pur­suit through the city streets lasted about a minute. The driver of the car, 23-year-old John James Whi­unui, died at the scene.

Auck­land po­lice pa­trol dog Fa­gan. Po­lice fig­ures show Welling­ton po­lice dogs bit and in­jured 43 peo­ple in 2014, com­pared to just six bite vic­tims the same year in South Auck­land, which has a sim­i­lar pop­u­la­tion.

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