Monday, March 21, 2022

Disarm the police to save lives

RNZ has launched a major investigation into killings by police, revealing that we have one of the most violent police forces in the western world:

New Zealand police kill at 11 times the rate of police in England and Wales.


The police in England and Wales have fatally shot 77 people over that time - twice as many as in New Zealand but in a population more than 10 times greater than ours.

When taken over the last 10 years, the rate of fatal shootings is 11 times higher in New Zealand than in England and Wales - or six times higher dating back to 1990.

Specialist firearms lawyer Nicholas Taylor said the high rates of police shootings were the result of poor weapons training, a shoot-to-kill policy and a police culture which put risk taking ahead of deescalation.

Its a long article, looking at who they shoot (disproportionately Māori and/or the mentally ill), whether they had weapons (not always) or had injured anybody before being shot (mostly not), and how often they were shot in the back or while fleeing (disturbingly often). Its an ugly picture, which gets worse when you remember that the Independent Police Conduct Authority has never ruled a police shooting unjustified, even when they shoot innocent bystanders (RNZ will apparently be doing more on that issue later).

Killings by police were historically low, but seemed to escalate in 2007, and again after 2015. I'm wondering what caused those changes, and my suspicion is that it is readier access to firearms (the police started installing gun safes in every vehicle in 2012, and it will have taken time for that change, and the change in mindset from an unarmed force to one with guns everywhere, to filter through). And as the article makes clear, the police now have a mindset of getting their guns, charging in, and putting themselves in a situation where they "have" to kill someone, where previously they would have called for help, contained and de-escalated the situation, and waited for the armed offenders squad to arrive. We need to force them back into the latter mindset. And the best way to do it is to take their guns away, and restrict them to specialist, trained officers, rather than giving a lethal weapon to any yahoo in blue.

We also need to make sure that police officers who use lethal force (or any force) face meaningful oversight, and prosecution where their decisions are legally questionable. The current situation of effective impunity is effectively an ongoing incentive for the police to kill. And that is not something we should tolerate in our society.