Police ordered to apologise for withholding national gun seizure statistics

Police have been ordered to apologise for failing to release national gun seizure statistics that revealed New Zealand is awash with firearms.

Police are stepping up efforts to crack down on the deadly weapons by extending a national programme to prevent gun violence by gangs and organised crime.

A South Auckland councillor says his community deserves to know the true scale of the alarming explosion in firearms, given the obvious public interest and growing concern.

“The truth is the truth and that is what we want,” former police officer Alf Filipaina told the Herald.

In January the Weekend Herald reported that frontline officers were encountering about 10 firearms every day, fuelling calls for the routine arming of police.

Figures obtained under the Official Information Act showed police had discovered more than 10,000 firearms across the country in the past three years – recorded under the GunSafe programme to track the proliferation of guns on the street.

The figures confirmed Auckland was a hotbed for gun violence, with Counties Manukau police recording the highest number of weapons nationwide and the city’s three policing districts accounting for about half the nation’s firearms-related injuries and deaths.

The Herald first requested the figures in March 2020, arguing their release was in the public interest given the worrying escalation in fatal shootings across Auckland.

But it was nearly two years until police finally handed them over – and only after intervention from the Ombudsman’s office.

The standard deadline for an OIA response is 20 working days.

The Herald complained to the Ombudsman about the police handling of the OIA release.

In a just-released finding, Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier ruled the delays were “unacceptable” and that procrastination by police bureaucracy had breached the act.

He ordered police to apologise to the Herald and review the way it responded to similar official information requests in future to prevent further undue delays.

But it was not only media seeking the information on behalf of the public. The police union has also sought GunSafe figures on behalf of frontline officers – without success.

Police Association boss Chris Cahill said it was important information that was always designed to be available to the public and released in a timely manner.

“It should not have been the subject of a protracted series of official information requests culminating in intervention from the Ombudsman to sort out.”

Filipaina said the South Auckland figures in particular were “fricken alarming”, there was no reason for police to withhold them from the public.

“I don’t know why they were reluctant to release them because the truth is the truth and that is what we want. We want the true scale.”

In a letter to the Herald, New Zealand Police acting director capability Inspector Jason Ross apologised for the police’s handling of the matter and lack of follow-up communication.

The delays were caused by attempts to coordinate the publication of various reports “to contextualise the information and police’s response to the changing operational environment”, he wrote.

“Steps are being taken to prevent similar errors occurring in the future.”

Meanwhile, a national operation to prevent firearms-related violence by criminal gangs and organised crime groups has been extended until June 30.

Operation Tauwhiro was launched in February last year by Police Commissioner Andrew Coster. It has resulted in the seizure of 1531 firearms and 1255 arrests.

Acting Assistant Commissioner Investigations David Lynch said the seizure and arrest figures reflected the operation’s success in preventing gun violence and restricting the impact of gangs.

In January Counties Manukau police executing a search warrant found a semi-automatic rifle, two bolt action rifles and a pump-action shotgun, along with ammunition and drugs, with similar seizures happening in other policing districts.

“Police has also continued to work with communities on the impacts gangs have across neighbourhoods and districts.

“In addition to the seizures and arrests, Police has been working to prevent guns getting into the hands of criminal gangs and organised crime groups. This means working closely with our government partner agencies, gun retailers, gun clubs, and firearms licence holders to stop the diversion of firearms from legitimate ownership to the possession of those involved in criminal activity and firearms-related violence.”

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