The police officers killed by Stan Graham in 1941, in the deadliest incident in the history of the New Zealand Police Force.
Last week Sergeant Don Wilkinson, of a secret police unit involved in surveillance of drug manufacturers, was shot dead on a South Auckland street. This was an awful tragedy for the New Zealand police. Wilkinson was the second police officer to be killed this year, but only the third of the decade. His death also attracted public attention because of the moral panic around methamphetamine which has gripped New Zealand for years, and because there were several other killings in South Auckland streets in the last two months.
Predictably, just weeks before the election, there have been calls for a knee-jerk response. Labour has proposed banning gangs – even though it is not clear whether the gunmen were involved with street gangs. National wants to declare “war” on methamphetamine (in fact, as the Libertarianz point out, prohibition has only resulted in more crime). The Police Commissioner wants to restrict or ban powerful air rifles of the kind used in the shooting. Earlier this year, a liquor store owner was shot dead and various knee-jerk responses were proposed then as well, among them permanent armed police patrols of South Auckland and greater restrictions on liquor stores. But the problem with these emotional responses is that they result in bad policy.
This post is an attempt to introduce some facts into the debate. I have compiled a list of all police officers shot in New Zealand over the last one hundred years.
The most striking thing about this list, in my opinion, is how short it is. In 100 years, there were 34 incidents in which 50 police officers were shot, 20 of them fatally. That’s one incident every three years and one casualty every two years, on average. Most of the shootings occurred prior to 1964 – 20 incidents in which 32 police officers (including two soldiers) were shot. This is particularly interesting. If you look at crime in general, it began to rise in the late 1960s, and homicides rose very sharply in the 1980s. Incidents involving armed offenders – or at least, incidents where the paramilitary Armed Offenders Squads have been deployed – have risen in recent years. None of these trends have affected the shooting of police officers, implying that such events have no relation to overall crime. Also, the “war on drugs” and the rise of organized crime have not resulted in more shootings of police – in fact, last weeks shooting may have been the first involving a drug dealer attacking the police.The main factor affecting the numbers of police casualties seems to have been the establishment of the Armed Offenders Squads in 1964.
New Zealand is a relatively well armed country (currently there are over a million firearms in civilian hands) yet since the 1880s our police officers have not usually been armed. In more recent years, the police have been more and more heavily armed, moving to semiautomatic pistols in the 1990s and switching to the Bushmaster AR-15 assault rifle as the primary arm, mandating stab-proof armour and, from next year, intoducing tasers. And yet, despite the latest tragedy, police do not seem to face any greater danger from armed offenders.
Unfortunately, just as with mass murders*, knee-jerk policies are often implemented as an emotional reaction to these tragedies. Prime examples are the banning of automatic pistols (with no restrictions on revolvers) in 1920 following the death of a police officer in Thorndon, and greater restrictions on “assault rifles” following the 1990 Aramoana massacre, ignoring the fact that assault rifles even before the new restrictions were almost never used in crime. A happy exception was the formation of the Armed Offenders Squads in 1964, which as the list makes clear, actually did make the police safer, through better equipment, planning and above all, training.
About the list: I compiled this using the widely available list of police and traffic officers slain on duty as a starting point. I added to this incidents from the 1990s to today using the Newztext database, and used at least a dozen official police histories to add earlier incidents – for this reason it may well be incomplete. I have included an incident where soldiers acting in a law-enforcement capacity were shot, and a number of incidents involving traffic officers before they were merged into the police force. Fatalities are marked in bold, and I have endeavoured to describe the background to each incident, what happened to the offender, and what sort of weapon was used. If I’m wrong about something please let me know.
A list of every police officer shot in New Zealand during the last one hundred years
- 2008 â€“ Sergeant Don Wilkinson was chased down and fatally shot, apparently with an air rifle, while conducting covert surveillance of a suspected P (crystal methamphetamine) lab in Mangere. Another undercover police sergeant was wounded. Two men have been arrested.
- 2003 â€“ Constable Warren Smith was wounded by a shotgun blast after stopping Graham Walsh near Hastings. Walsh held a grudge against police ever since they charged him with firearms offences after he threatened two burglars with a .303 rifle at his business in 1997. He blamed the burglars and the police for the demise of his business, and finally killed himself.
- 2002 â€“ Detective Constable Duncan Taylor was fatally shot and Constable Jeannette Park wounded by Daniel Luff, a teenager armed with a stolen rifle, at Rongotea. Luff is currently serving at least 17 years for murder.
- 1998 â€“ Mark Prendergast was wounded in an Ashburton siege. The offender killed himself.
- 1997 â€“ Rob Nicol was shot after being taken hostage by Wayne Adamson while responding to an armed robbery in Auckland. Adamson claimed that he did not mean to shoot Nicol and did not know he was a police officer.
- 1996 â€“ Constable Glenn McKibbin was fatally shot with a .223 hunting rifle in Hastings during a routine patrol, allegedly by Terence Thompson, who was himself shot dead by police officers after a lengthy manhunt.
- 1996 â€“ Police Matron Gail Jacobson was slightly injured by a shot fired into her van by gang members outside Wellington District Court, while driving four members of a rival gang to court. The gang responsible for firing the shot apologised and sent her flowers.
- 1991 â€“Constable Tim Ashton (Constables Foster and Barlass also had superficial injuries) of the AOS received shotgun pellets to the face and hand while attempting to arrest a mentally ill Christchurch man . Ashton was among those who brought down David Gray.
- 1990 â€“ Sergeant Stewart Guthrie was fatally shot by David Gray with a .223 Norinco AK replica and his own service revolver during the Aramoana massacre. He posthumously received the George Cross. Detective Stephen Vaughan of the Anti-Terrorist Squad (now the Special Tactics Group) was shot in the ankle during the shootout which finally killed Gray. This incident was depicted in the film Out of the Blue.
- 1986 â€“ Traffic Officer Robin Dudding was fatally shot after being taken hostage by armed robber Ross Kameta at Lake Rotoiti. He posthumously received the George Medal. Constable Tuti Katene had already been wounded by Kameta, and the AOS had to shoot and wound Kameta in order to arrest him. He was found not guilty by reason of insanity.
- 1976 â€“ Constable Peter Murphy was fatally shot by Harry Thompson who had stolen a .22 rifle from an Invercargill sports shop. Thompson was convicted of murder.
- 1972 – Vince Nolan, working the night shift at Ashburton police station, was severely hurt by a shotgun blast fired by local teenager Michael Ewen Mckenzie.
- 1971 â€“ Detective Sergeant Peter Ward was hit with 80 pellets of birdshot in Puketi Forest while investigating suspected wood-pigeon poachers, who were found not guilty of attempted murder.
- 1970 â€“ Constable Robert Fleming was shot twice in the back with a .303 rifle at Upper Hutt, by a Mr. Bustard.
- 1963 â€“ Constable James Richardson and Constable Bryan Schultz were shot in Lower Hutt by Bruce McPhee with a .303 rifle, while attending a domestic incident. McPhee was convicted of murder.
- 1963 â€“ Detective Sergeant Neville Power and Detective Inspector Wallace Chalmer were fatally shot while attempting to arrest Victor Wasmuth following the shooting of two civilians, one of whom died, at Waitakere. They posthumously received the Queen’s Police Medal. Wasmuth was declared insane. The ineffective police response to this incident and the 1960 shootings resulted in the formation of the Armed Offenders Squad.
- 1960 â€“ Detective Sergeant Harry McCombe and Detectives Joe Sheehan, Bill Brien (founder of the Armed Offenders Squad) and Peter Faulkner, along with a firefighter, were wounded during a stand-off with a man armed with a .22 rifle in Manurewa, who subsequently killed himself. Efforts to capture the man bordered on the farcical, including an attempt to knock him over with a fire hose which he shot full of holes.
- 1954 â€“ Constable Peter Gilligan was wounded by Edward Ross, hostage-taker, who was himself shot dead by police in 1975 while stabbing his own daughter in another hostage incident.
- 1952 â€“ Detective B. D. Christofferson was seriously wounded with a sawn-off rifle while confronting two youths. He received the George Medal.
- 1951 â€“ Sergeant William Hughes was killed by Noema Rika with a shotgun at Otaki, along with Rika’s partner and two of her daughters. Rika also killed himself.
- 1949 â€“ Traffic Officer John Kehoe was fatally shot with a .38 revolver in an unprovoked attack by Richard McGill, who also wounded a civilian before killing himself. McGill was facinated by firearms and had used a sketch of a policeman for target practice.
- 1946 â€“ Constable Percy Clemence wounded by Fred Rawiri with a .303 rifle, after the insane Rawiri held up a Northland dairy for ice-cream.
- 1941 â€“ Constable Frederick Jordan, Constable Percy Tulloch, Sergeant William Cooper and Constable Edward Best were fatally shot by Stan Graham at Koiterangi near Hokitika. They had been responding to reports of armed threats by Graham, and also attempting to confiscate one of Graham’s .303 rifles for the war effort. He was finally shot dead by police two weeks later, after also killing a civilian and two Home Guards. This incident was depicted in the film Bad Blood. Public backlash against the manner of Graham’s death caused police to become unwilling to defend themselves agaisnt other armed offenders, with tragic consequences in 1960 and 1963.
- 1934 â€“ Constable Thomas Heeps was fatally shot with a .32 pistol while confronting Henare Hona, a fugitive wanted for four murders.
- 1923 â€“ Constable H. J. Olsen was shot by John Christopher Higgins after responding to school shooting at Waikino. Two young boys had been killed and four wounded, along with their headmaster.
- 1922 â€“ Detective Lambert was seriously injured by William Crossan with a .32 revolver while responding to burglary in Hamilton.
- 1921 â€“ Constable James Dorgan was fatally shot at Timaru by an unidentified burglar.
- 1920 â€“ Constable Templeton was shot in the leg at Lyttelton during a gunfight with a suspected murderer.
- 1919 â€“ Constable Vivian Dudding was fatally shot with a pistol while responding to a domestic incident in Thorndon. The offender shot himself. The incident was one of several shootings which prompted the banning of automatic pistols and the registration of other firearms in New Zealand, which had had no gun control since the 1880s.
- 1916 â€“ Constables Neil (who was â€œemasculatedâ€), Wright (who suffered punctured lungs) Ebbett and McCown (who received minor injuries) were hit with birdshot and .22 rounds during the Maungapohatu raid targeting Maori separatist Rua Kenana. Two Maori gunmen were also killed and several wounded.
- 1914 â€“ Acting Detective Carney was shot with a .22 rifle at a Lyttelton sleepout.
- 1913 â€“ 2 soldiers were injured in Wellington’s Buckle Street riot by revolver shots fired from Taranaki Street, which were allegedly aimed at the Police Commissioner.
- 1912 â€“ Constable G. Wade was shot during the Waihi miner’s strike. The alleged gunman Frederick Evans was fatally beaten by Constable Wade immediately after the shooting, and became a martyr for the union movement.
- 1910 â€“ Sergeant John McGuire was fatally shot during the manhunt for repeat prison escaper Joseph Pawelka, who was acquitted of McGuire’s murder before his final escape, when he disappeared never to be seen again.
*Speaking of mass murders, I noticed that eight out of the 20 police officers shot dead were killed by mass murderers (defined as 4 or more victims). Mass murder is so rare as to a black-swan event in New Zealand, which tells you something about how rarely police officers are shot.