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Photograph: Kim Baker Wilson / RNZ
Photograph: Kim Baker Wilson / RNZ

SocietyApril 4, 2018

Hey, Garth McVicar, we reject your insulting ‘congratulations’ at a fatal shooting

Photograph: Kim Baker Wilson / RNZ
Photograph: Kim Baker Wilson / RNZ

The Sensible Sentence Trust founder thinks the death of a man is a cause for celebration. The sentiment is reprehensible – we are not, and will never be, executioners, writes a long-serving NZ police officer.

Over almost two decades in the New Zealand Police I have been confronted by angry, intoxicated, deranged and armed men on numerous occasions. I have been within a hair’s breadth of pulling the trigger of a firearm in these situations. Several times. I think myself fortunate not to have had to fire my weapon, unlike friends of mine who have been forced to take that shot and have wounded or even killed the suspect.

Garth McVicar’s comments regarding the death of a man shot by police on Easter Saturday near Poehuehue – he began with the words “One less to clog the prisons!” – represent the exact antithesis of police values. They are reprehensible to me and my fellow police officers.

The shooting, potentially fatally, of a suspect is the last thing that any police officer wants to do. Challengingly, it is also something that the police officers I know are prepared to do. This responsibility is taken far from lightly by those of us who are actually out there at three in the morning facing the situations where this fraught decision presents itself with disturbing frequency. Not much is heard about the times where the situations are resolved without firearms being fired but there are many.

I do not judge those who did fire. It is not through any superior judgement or training that I have not. Instead I am grateful that I have not had to, just as I am grateful that my friends have had the fortitude to do so when required. I hope that, for the sake of my family, I have that fortitude, too, if confronted in similar circumstances.

I have had a loaded shotgun pointed at me while I was not armed after an offender crashed his vehicle. He later stated that the only reason he did not fire at me and my partner is that he was able to restart his car and resume his flight. Had I had a firearm I would have shot the offender.

All of the police I know who have shot at an offender have been in situations, before and after their shooting, where they were able to resolve the situation without needing to take a shot. On every occasion, for me and for them, the need to shoot or not was entirely dictated by the actions of the suspect. And it was a last resort.

Every officer is aware of the emotional and psychological impact upon themselves and their family that would result from such a shooting and I believe they have the same concern for the well being of the suspect and their family also.

Killing someone in the line of duty automatically makes a police officer the subject of a homicide investigation. I have been involved in many homicide investigations and there are very few aspects of the personal or professional life of the subjects of an investigation that are not examined, combed-through and laid bare.

Putting the personal stress of such a situation aside, it is another aspect of this issue that raises the ire of police officers at the comments of McVicar.

While he may find he has many sympathetic ears within the police for his campaign for harsher sentences he is sadly mistaken if he thinks police officers will support this latest outburst. The manner in which offenders are sentenced is a matter for the courts. It is the job of the police to keep the peace and protect the public by preventing crime and apprehending offenders. The key word here is “apprehend”. Every police officer I know would much prefer to apprehend suspects and resolve incidents without the use of lethal force.

McVicar’s statement suggests that the police in New Zealand would be correct in becoming a Gestapo-esque kill-squad, using summary execution to save the state the expense of prosecuting, trying, imprisoning or, god forbid rehabilitating offenders. This is the most offensive aspect of McVicar’s comments.

Police officers are compassionate human beings who joined the police to help in our communities. In doing so we accept that at times we have to use force and are prepared to take actions for the safety of the public which we know could have deeply damaging and long-impacting effects on our lives, our families’ lives and the lives of others. McVicar’s comments are in insult to our values, compassion, intentions and to the bravery of officers who find themselves confronted by people intending them grievous bodily harm or death. His “congratulations” are not accepted. We are not, and will not be, executioners.

Vic Cook (a pseudonym) is a NZ police officer who has been in the force for close to 20 years.

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