Friday, May 8, 2009


For the past 24 hours, the news in New Zealand has been dominated by an armed standoff in which police are beseiging a lone gunman in his house in Napier. The siege began when police turned up to search a house suspected of growing cannabis, and the occupant started shooting them.

Senior Constable Len Snee - who, like most cops, was unarmed - is the 29th New Zealand police officer to be killed in the line of duty. Not the 29th in Napier, you understand, or the 29th this century - the 29th ever, in the whole country.

I'm sorry for Snee's family, and I hope the man who shot him goes to prison and dies there. At the same time, I can't help thinking that 29 is a pretty low number. In fact I'd have to conclude that policing, in New Zealand, is a considerably safer job than, say, logging or fishing.

My idiot boss, John, can't understand why the police haven't simply killed the guy already. My more measured boss, let's call him Dave, says: "Why do that, when they can simply sit outside and wait?"

I'm exceptionally proud of the police at this point. They've remembered. They've remembered that the core of their job isn't about catching crooks, or enforcing the law - those are incidental. Their job is to keep the peace - to maintain an environment in which people are normally, by default, civilised to one another.

You don't do that by killing people.


Ruby Apolline said...

29 officers killed ever? That's most impressive.

I like your idea of what the police are for; however, in certain areas in my country, the default seems to be people are not civilized to each other. And a lot of killing happens.

I haven't thought much about the role of policing, so thank you for that. I'm not sure what is best for the worst parts of my country but perhaps peacekeeping should be the guiding role, rather than catching the bad guys. Most interesting.

vet said...

I did a little research on death rates of police in other places, and while 29 for a whole country doesn't sound like many - you need to remember, it's a small country.

The casualty rate is quite comparable with US states of the same population, such as Oregon or Kentucky. Puerto Rico is a lot worse, but I'm thinking population density probably plays a large part in that.