Armed police during a raid on the Headhunters gang in 2015 (Photo: Getty Images)

The Bulletin: Police tooling up – a sign of the future?

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Police order to be armed in Canterbury raises debate, Local Government NZ calls for more devolution, and appalling rates of strangulation cases revealed.

All frontline Canterbury police have been told to arm themselves by their District Commander, reports Stuff. The order followed a shootout involving police, in which a man allegedly opened fire on police and was shot twice. It is important to note that the order is regional, temporary, and being issued while police hunt for a second suspect. Police minister Stuart Nash was quoted in the Newstalk ZB bulletins this morning, saying that general arming is not on the horizon. However, the episode has raised the conversation – should it be?

That’s one argument made in an interview Police Association boss Chris Cahill gave to Morning Report yesterday. Mr Cahill said police were seeing more and more incidents involving firearms, either being in the possession of suspects, presented at officers or actually fired. The data that came up in the interview didn’t necessarily point to that conclusion, though Mr Cahill stood by the claim, saying the data was flawed. But his wider point was the same as what the Police Association have been calling for, for many years now – that there needs to be tighter gun control and registration, and that police should have access to firearms at all times.

The first change being called for is allegedly being blocked by gun enthusiasts who are against tighter regulation. There have been various political skirmishes over it. It’s a strange one though, because New Zealand doesn’t have a widespread culture of people in cities owning guns – just an estimated 16% of all households have a gun. The overwhelming number of them are shotguns and rifles rather than handguns, which heavily implies they’re for hunting or used by farmers. It obviously only takes one gun in the wrong set of hands, but if as Mr Cahill asserts it’s often hardened criminals holding that gun, it’s not clear what effect new regulations would have.

The second – armed police – is picking up much more attention. It goes against the idea of policing that many New Zealanders hold as ideal. The debate comes up in some shape or form almost every year, and while police policy might inch towards it (having firearms in most police cars, for example) it never quite goes outright. Then again, when that change came in, it was hailed by a Police Association representative as a step towards general arming.

But one thing that shouldn’t be forgotten in the move to have all officers be armed is that the training they undertake isn’t necessarily to the level it should be. The Armed Offenders Squad, for whom being armed is a core part of their job, undergo extremely rigorous selection, outlined in this North and South feature. Generally speaking – but not universally so – the AOS have been able to assess when not to shoot. That might not necessarily be the case for every officer, and adding guns into situations where they wouldn’t otherwise be can lead to unpredictable outcomes. And given the government’s recruitment is being offset by large numbers of departures, a lot of these cops will be very inexperienced.

The other aspect of this that can never be ignored – policing isn’t applied equally to all citizens of New Zealand, and having generally armed police could exacerbate bad outcomes. That’s a point made by Morgan Godfery on Māui Street – that it’s overwhelmingly likely that armed police will mean more dead Māori people. You can accept that police officers don’t want to shoot people, but also accept that it’s overwhelmingly more likely that more people will be shot when they shouldn’t have been if all police are armed. That’s the experience that has been seen in various taser incidents since they were introduced.

Nobody would deny that police officers face serious dangers on the job. But New Zealand has extremely low rates of gun deaths, both involving police and otherwise, compared to the rest of the world. For a lyrical outline of why that matters, and why not having generally armed police is a crucial aspect of that, read Eric Crampton’s essay on The Spinoff from 2017.


Local Government NZ wants to put the local back into government in New Zealand. Interest reports they’ve renewed their calls for more devolved funding and powers to Council level, at a symposium held in partnership with the NZ Initiative. They say decision making outcomes are improved by having those decisions being made at the lowest appropriate level. However, minister Nanaia Mahuta is greeting the suggestion with caution, saying international comparisons aren’t necessarily the best model for New Zealand, and ideal models of localism differ for different groups.


An appalling number of cases and arrests on charges of strangulation are being made, in the wake of a new law. The NZ Herald’s Anna Leask reports 33 people are being charged with strangulation every week on average. The new law created a specific strangulation and suffocation offence, in a bid to curb New Zealand’s terrible rates of domestic violence. A survivor of strangulation shared her story with the Herald, and strongly urged anyone suffering at the hands of an abusive partner to seek help from support organisations like Shine.


The Provincial Growth Fund is often derided as a way for NZ First MPs to get good press in target electorates in Northland. However, as this NZ Herald piece from this morning shows, it isn’t actually the region to have seen the most largesse. More has been spent in both Tairāwhiti on the East Coast, and the South Island’s West Coast. Though in fairness, the Tairāwhiti spend mostly came from a single roading package.


Fonterra’s farmer shareholders have had an interesting day of results, but it is much better news than they’ve typically had recently. Rural News reports the milk forecast price has gone up, on the back of global price increases. However, the dividend has been revised down, and Fonterra almost certainly won’t be paying out an interim dividend.


The government has resumed having regular meetings with unionists, reports Radio NZ, in a move PM Jacinda Ardern says is to build the relationship the government wishes to have with them. It’s the first time a PM will regularly meet with unions since the Helen Clark era. PM Ardern acknowledged that the government had experienced tensions with a lot of unions during their tenure so far, in particular those like teachers and nurses who had gone on strike.


From our partners: Climate change has already affected how electricity gets delivered to customers, and it’s only going to get more challenging. Vector’s Chief Networks Officer Andre Botha outlines what the lines company is doing to respond.


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Dame June Jackson with her mokopuna Te Aria Jackson (left) and Te Waiora Iti (right). Image: supplied

Right now on The Spinoff: Former Nat MP Wayne Mapp asks whether Jacinda Ardern will be able to use her personal popularity to turn the country towards climate change action. Teuila Fuatai paints a beautiful portrait of West Auckland legend Dame Temuranga “June” Batley-Jackson, a tireless leader and servant of the people. And if you’ve seen the show High Road, have a watch of the character Terry Huffer’s guide to Piha.

Also, I wrote this piece about magical thinking around compostable packaging, and how without much more joined up thinking about how it actually works, it won’t be any sort of solution to the plastics crisis. One of the points in it – that we throw plastic things in recycling bins and then they become someone else’s problem – came in for a bit of criticism. So to be clear, just because the recycling system is basically broken, you should still try and recycle conscientiously. That was the view of Gareth Shute, who last year wrote a piece about what can still be recycled.


Here’s an incredibly bizarre and twisted tale about a record attempt that wasn’t quite all it was cracked up to be. Stuff’s Dana Johanssen has followed up on a bid to run the length of New Zealand, and in doing so break a decades old milestone. It was a heartwarming tale, that captivated plenty of fans during the journey. The only problem was, it all turned into a bit of a farce. Here’s an excerpt:

“I am not going to claim the record for some obvious reasons,” Newburn wrote. “There were parts of the run where road/bridge conditions were totally unsafe to run and therefore I made the call to be driven through these parts – these decisions were my decisions.” He went on to explain that the traffic conditions and extreme weather were also to blame.

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The post gave the impression his record attempt had essentially failed on a technicality, and it was only in the interests of his personal safety that he received any assistance.

A member of Newburn’s support crew has since painted a much different picture.


The Football Ferns have had a tricky start to the Cup of Nations tournament, losing 2-0 to Australia. Stuff reports they were basically just outplayed by a much more battle-hardened Matildas outfit, and there wasn’t a lot they could do about it. The tournament is part of the buildup to the World Cup later this year – Stuff’s Andrew Voerman describes it as a situation where one of the teams on show last night is a contender to win the tournament, and the other is hoping to win their first ever World Cup game, and it was easy to tell which was which.


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