Herald on Sunday
Guns weigh heavy on frontline
Police officers increasingly fearful of being shot at when pulling vehicles over
Police officers are becoming increasingly fearful of pulling over cars due to the number of firearms now carried by gang members.
Many frontline staff have begun wearing uncomfortable ballistic plates inside their stab-resistant vests and one officer, who has been shot at, said he lies to his family about how his day has gone.
It’s been a year since Constable Matthew Hunt was shot dead, and his colleague badly injured, after stopping a car in West Auckland. Since then, a number of initiatives have been introduced to try to improve safety for frontline staff.
However, figures show that in the 10 months following his death there were 18 cases where a gun was fired or pointed in the direction of a police officer, police car or police dog. That doesn’t include jobs where firearms have been found but not used.
The windscreen of at least one car was peppered with shots and a police dog was critically injured after being hit in the Far North.
Frontline officers say those statistics are the tip of the iceberg.
“I think the public would be shocked if they had a true grasp of how dangerous it is out there,” said one officer who has been shot at while trying to stop a car.
“If I told any of my family about the jobs I attend now they wouldn’t be impressed. I actually lie to my family now. You don’t want them to worry.”
Police Association President Chris Cahill said while the number of weapons fired at police since Hunt’s death may sound low, it would only take one shot to make its target and the numbers become very grim.
“From an officer’s point of view a firearm in the door or footwell of a car is still a considerable risk, it’s not a big step to presenting it.”
Cahill said part of the problem was the easy access to illegal firearms; another was growing gang tensions.
“Without a doubt the increased gang tensions and increased gang membership has led to the escalation of carrying firearms.”
He said it will only be a matter of time before another officer is killed.
“I think it would be naive to say that something like that won’t happen
in the future given the risks that are out there.”
An experienced frontline officer, who didn’t want to be identified, said there had been a big increase in gang tension and violence recently, partly due to deportees from Australia.
He said there also appeared to be more firearms in the hands of criminals, especially gang members, in the past year — and a growing prevalence to “use them against us”.
The officer said he was in disbelief after he was shot at.
“It was pure shock. I was armed and I knew they were armed but I couldn’t actually believe that they had shot at us. Even in the morning I still couldn’t believe they had turned
their firearms on us because it doesn’t really happen in New Zealand.
“But, lately, it’s getting beyond a joke really.”
He believes officers need to be armed — before someone else is shot.
Hunt’s mother Diane feels the same.
“I do believe that it will happen again. It’s just around the corner. How many officers have to lose their lives before they can have the equipment to save themselves?”
Assistant Commissioner Tusha Penny said nothing was more important than the safety of all people and communities across Aotearoa New Zealand.
“This includes our people.”