Friday, October 01, 2021

An armed police force would endanger the public

Last week, the police announced changes to weapons policy, which would see more police trained for Armed Offenders Squad work as an alternative to general arming. Today, we got to see why: because an internal report made it clear that more guns in the hands of police would make the public less safe:

More than 90 people could have been shot, 43 of whom would have been killed, if police officers had been armed during serious incidents over the past 11 years, a new report has estimated.

The report, first undertaken by police last year following the death of Constable Matthew Hunt, and reviewed again this year, concluded general arming of officers would increase the risks to public safety and the number of people shot.

It was inconclusive whether arming officers full-time would make officers safer and found routine arming could negatively impact the relationship between police and some members of the community.

“This would undermine New Zealand Police’s commitment to policing by consent, diversity in our workforce, and strong relationships with communities,” the report said.

Not mentioned: this is necessarily backwards-looking, and averaging over the past decade masks the real escalation in police firearms use since they put military-grade weapons in the boot of every police car. So, the actual body count would be even higher. [Corrected: paragraph 83 makes it clear they used shooting rates from 2019 and 2020].

Its good to see that police made the right decision here in rejecting general arming. But there's also stuff in that report which should raise significant public disquiet. For example, the formal finding that giving police greater access to pepper spray and tasers endangered the public for no benefit whatsoever [p29]:

The limited available research reviewed in this section suggests that officers are more likely to use CS sprays and TASERs (instead of lower-harm tactical options) on their shifts if they have access to them. Additionally, the use of these alternative tactical options does not seem to lead to a decrease in assaults against officers, potentially instead leading to an increase in these assaults. Thus, new tactical options brought in with the intention of improving officer safety, and that may make Police Officers feel safer in their work, may have unintended consequences which could lead to an escalation in harm.
[Original emphasis]

This is a disturbing finding, which suggests that we should be looking at removing these weapons, or shifting them from on belts to in gun safes in cars (or better, back in police stations) to improve public safety.

Its also interesting to look at what the police didn't ask, namely "would we be better off with lower levels of police arming?" Because we used to have that - not too many years ago guns were kept in police stations, for use by specialised units in real emergencies, not in every police car for use by every plod who feels threatened. How many fewer shootings and deaths would we have if we moved back to that model? What impact would it have on public safety? And if the finding is negative at present, given the (blatantly obvious) finding that guns use by criminals is driven by the availability of guns in the community, how many guns do we need to take out of circulation to get back there? Because the police - and certainly the Police Association - seem to act like an armed police force is some sort of goal. It shouldn't be. Instead, the goal should be an unarmed police force. Because that's the real sign that our communities are safe.