For nearly two decades now, there has been a debate about the necessity of arming frontline Police officers in New Zealand. The debate has ebbed and flowed. In the 5-6 years prior to the 15 March 2019 mosque attack which left 51 people dead and another 40+ wounded, the debate began to pick up, exacerbated by frustrations at a perception that violent crime was increasing in New Zealand.
The perception was fuelled by a surge in armed hold ups of bars, restaurants and other places, usually around closing time or when no customers were about. In a few brazen cases, during peak Friday night trading and in a couple of cases, firearms were presented and discharged. Members of Parliament, usually in reaction to feedback from the electorate would try to show that they are trying to push the matter, would demand action in Parliament by calling for armed Police.
Following the Christchurch mosque attacks, the Police, in a bid to show New Zealand that they were prepared to deal with any armed threat. The intention of the trial might have been, good, but there was one massive problem with it. Non-Maori/Pasifika people largely supported the trial. A break down by ethnicity showed that Caucasian New Zealanders largely supported the trial and hoped that it would become permanent.
But there was a segment of community that was not actively consulted and whose response starkly contrasted with the response from others. This was the Maori and Pasifika communities, who disproportionately represent New Zealand in crime statistics. Some have argued – and no doubt some will continue to argue, even when confronted with the facts – that they get what what they deserve and it is not New Zealand’s fault that they find themselves looking down a Police gun from time to time.
Except that that argument fundamentally broken. It is fundamentally ignorant and whomever continues with it, is part of the problem in that crime in large part is a consequence of coming from circumstances born out of a deprived living environment. I am talking about an environment where basic items such as food and medicine are not affordable; rent eats nearly the entire weeks wages before a cent is spent on anything else. Education becomes a low priority, and school leavers have little support into work.
A survey run by Action Station turned out some truly disturbing statistics. 1155 Maori and Pasifika people participated in the survey. Of that:
- 85% did not support the Police Armed Response Trial
- 87% felt unsafe when armed Police are in their neighbourhood
- 91% said that they would not call the Police even in an emergency
Yes, you read that correctly. Even in an emergency. Which pretty much ensures that the suspects will be able to get away and offend again; which shows a systemic break down in communications and trust between these communities and the Police, and goes some way towards explaining the contribution of Maori and Pasifika to criminal statistics.
And there was more. It was found that Police were nine times more likely to turn a gun on Maori or Pasifika and 13 times more likely to turn loose a Police dog on the same groups.
So, I commend the New Zealand Police for getting this message clearly. It is not to say that they should work unprotected and no realistic person would expect them to do so, but it is to say that a potentially hugely divisive measure has been rightfully binned. And for that, New Zealand is grateful.