WELLINGTON - Frontline police in New Zealand's Canterbury District on the southern island will be armed until further notice following three shooting incidents that sparked a debate on whether all police should carry fire arms.
New Zealand is one of the few countries, like the U.K and Norway, where police do not carry guns while on general duty, although hand guns, rifles and tasers are kept in their vehicles and could be used with a supervisor's permission.
The move to arm police in the Canterbury District follows a shootout between a Christchurch resident and police on Tuesday. The man was shot by police and is in hospital in a stable condition, but another suspect in the shooting is still at large and may be armed, said police.
Canterbury District Commander John Price said all police will carry firearms until the man is caught or surrenders.
"Our officers, who are dedicated to keeping our communities safe, are currently operating in an environment of heightened risk and they deserve to be kept safe," Price told a news conference on Friday.
Police Minister Stuart Nash said arming police was a temporary measure, Radio New Zealand reported, but the New Zealand Police Association called for all police to be armed.
"More and more policemen are finding criminals with guns, so unless we find a way of stopping these firearms from reaching them we will have no other choice but to arm our officers," association president Chris Cahill told Reuters.
Serious crimes are unusual in New Zealand but there have been more gun-related reports in recent years. Cahill said in a press statement after Tuesday's shooting that since last June there had been at least 60 firearm cases involving police according to media reports.
New Zealanders must have a gun license to own a fire arm and there are an estimated 1.5 million guns in the country, according to local media reports.