When the police launched their taser trial, civil libertarians warned it was the thin edge of the wedge towards an armed police force. Now, with Police Commissioner Howard Broad effectively saying give us tasers, or give us guns, it seems that they were right.
Just to see how dangerous Broad's suggestion is, let's look at what it would actually involve. Currently, the use of firearms by the New Zealand police is highly restricted. While they are available, officers do not routinely carry firearms in the line of duty, and they are typically only seen when the Armed Offenders Squad are called out. And even in those circumstances, they can only be used when lives are actually in danger. Contrast this with the taser: if adopted, it would fill the same role as pepper spray - as a "less than lethal" weapon which can be used to subdue violent and aggressive suspects (and, judging by actual police practice, to "induce compliance" in those who talk back - which is a good reason why we should not trust them with those weapons). Note that the circumstances under which tasers can be used are significantly wider than those in which firearms are allowed - so if Broad is taken seriously, what is actually being proposed is a significant loosening of restrictions on firearms. For example, it would allow the police to use firearms on bottle-throwing youths, or against angry drunks in bars (and of course to threaten to use them to ward off such circumstances - thus instituting a culture of routine threats to use lethal force against the citizens they are supposed to be protecting). This would not just be a move towards an armed police force - it would be a move towards US-style policing in which the use of lethal force was completely normalised. And I do not believe that that is something which New Zealanders - other than the authoritarian freaks in the Police Association - want to see.
It's also questionable whether such a move (or the move to introduce tasers) is actually necessary. While much has been made of the fact that there were over 2000 assaults against police last year, statistics from their latest annual report [PDF] tell their own story:
While "Crimes Act assaults" (its a question of which law the offence is prosecuted under, not necessarily of seriousness) have risen significantly in the last year, overall assaults have risen only slowly in the last ten (which you'd expect, given that it will be strongly correlated with population and the number of police). Meanwhile, the number of assaults with weapons - the stat you would look at in judging whether the police need to be more heavily armed - has remained fairly stable. Like so much to do with crime statistics, it seems to be mostly a matter of misperception, fearmongering, and outright political spin than any real need.