Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Herald on the army

In its editorial today, the Herald comes out against Wayne Mapp's idea for greater use of the army in law enforcement:

It is customary, of course, for the police to use the Air Force's helicopters for transport, and for the two to work closely together in anti-terrorism activities. The armed forces also provide manpower and support when summoned under the 2002 Civil Defence Act by local bodies whose own emergency services have been overwhelmed by a disaster. But it would be a significant step for them to be involved in future Molenaar-type scenarios.

There are good reasons why this should not happen. The use of a country's armed forces against its own citizenry is not a matter to be considered lightly. It raises the spectre of times when armies were employed routinely to put down political dissent. There is a line here that need not be crossed.

As the Herald points out, the rise of professional civilian police in the nineteenth century redefined the role of the military, from a tool for the suppression of the masses to a force directed only at (in our case, largely theoretical) external enemies. And that is not something we should go back on. Otherwise, we are taking the first step on the road to Fiji.

As for the Herald's suggestion that the police have their own armoured vehicles, I'm not sure. If they encourage more aggressive tactics towards armed offenders from police (as opposed to their present tactic of containment, which works well in minimising risk to the public), then IMHO it would be better not to have them.