Without a justified ‘business case’, further arming the NZ Police will likely escalate gun violence in a way that will disproportionately affect Māori and Pasifika 

Gun violence is a significant public health problem globally; it is an important contemporary human rights issue. Amnesty International reports more than 500 deaths per day around the world through violence committed with firearms.  

Gun violence has become a chronic public health crisis in several countries.  

Generally, gun violence disproportionately affects disadvantaged communities, women and marginalised groups in society.  The presence of firearms can make people feel threatened and fearful with long-term psychosocial effects on individuals and communities.  

Easy access to firearms is one of the main drivers of gun violence.  

The level of violence usually reflects the local attitudes to firearms and the prevailing culture regarding those firearms. In 2016, murders attributed to guns were reported to be 106 per million people in the US, compared with 5.4 per million in Canada and 10 per million in Australia.  

The rate of violence committed with firearms reported in Aotearoa New Zealand was 1.87 per million people. It is generally accepted that this is a low-risk environment for gun violence.

The New Zealand Police recently completed the Armed Response Teams trial and results are expected at the end of June 2020.  The trial is to seek new ways of deploying the existing armed response provided by the Armed Offenders Squad (AOS).  

The justification for the trial is broad with general references to the change in the threat environment and reports of staff encountering more violent and unpredictable events. The police claim there is significant danger to the public and staff, but no evidence or data was presented to justify and support their claims.

Pacific and Māori communities have expressed opposition to further arming of the New Zealand police force. They are concerned that arming the police here will escalate violence against Pacific and Māori individuals given their record in dealing with people from these communities. Pacific and Māori individuals are more likely to be arrested and prosecuted for equivalent crimes when compared with non-Māori and non-Pacific New Zealanders. The police in this country have admitted to ‘unconscious bias’ when dealing with Polynesian people.

There are additional concerns in the community about a flawed consultation process.

In my view, the New Zealand Police has not provided a compelling case for arming staff. This is a significant shift in policy which requires a high standard of transparency and accountability in order to justify this escalation.  

Pacific and Māori communities need to be heard. Without a balanced and justified ‘business case’, further arming the New Zealand Police is likely to escalate gun violence in Aotearoa/New Zealand. This increase is likely to affect Pacific and Māori people.

It should not be done.

Dr Collin Tukuitonga is Associate Dean Pacific and Associate Professor of Public Health at the University of Auckland and a member of the Health Quality & Safety Commission Board

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