Friday, June 12, 2009

Tied hands

Defence Minister Wayne Mapp is complaining that the Defence Act tied police's hands during last month's armed offender's squad siege, and that they could not use an army tank to smash down gunman Jan Molenaar's house.

Yes, and that's a good thing.

The rules in the Defence Act exist for good reason: because the roles of police and the military are very very different. The police exist to investigate offences, apprehend those responsible, and bring them to trial. The military exists (in its own mind, at least) to kill people. As a result, soldiers make very bad police. If you need an example, just look at Fiji.

Handling armed offenders is one thing the New Zealand Police have historically done well: they cordon off the area, contain them, and wait for them to either kill themselves or give themselves up. This is a generally successful strategy aimed at minimising risk to the public and the loss of human life, and it works. Only in talkbackland (which seems to resemble America) and apparently the National Party Cabinet is it considered appropriate to call in the army so they can go in with tanks and guns blazing to execute the suspect without trial. One of these groups has an excuse: they're morons. What's National's? And sorry, a sense of public emasculation and a desire to get "tough on crime" headlines (by, just to make this clear, executing people without trial) doesn't cut it.

The problem with the deployment of the army during the Napier siege was not that it was too hard, but that it was too easy. Despite the clear intention of the Defence Act, tanks were deployed to the streets of a New Zealand city to assist in law enforcement, without any sort of Prime Ministerial (let alone Parliamentary) approval. And that is simply not acceptable in a democracy. Law enforcement is the police's job; if the army want to play with their toys, they can stay in Waiouru.