Police safety in spotlight again after sentencing of Constable Hunt’s murderer

Laura James
Source: 1News

Police safety is once again in the spotlight after the sentencing of the man who murdered Constable Matthew Hunt in West Auckland last year.

Eli Epiha, 25, was handed one of the longest jail sentences in New Zealand history at the High Court in Auckland yesterday.

He must serve a minimum non parole period of 27 years.

He was also sentenced to 12 years for the attempted murder of Constable David Goldfinch, and a year for dangerous driving causing injury, but those terms will be served concurrently.

The focus now for Constable Hunt's family, friends and community is to ensure officers are better protected, amid an uptick in gun violence.

National Police spokesperson and Whangaparaoa MP Mark Mitchell told 1News, "They've got to make sure we don't put a David Goldfinch or Matt Hunt in that situation again."

Outside court on Friday Constable Hunt's mother Diane said, "I will continue to work hard in Matthew's memory and for David and all their police colleagues to make sure that they have every chance of being able to protect themselves and the public they serve."

Matt's uncle Rob Winterbottom told the court, "A message need to be sent to all those attempt to use a firearm against a police officer, that this will not be tolerated."

The Police Association agreed there needs to be a clear message.

President Chris Cahill said, "We're talking about people who are willing to pull the trigger now, we're not just talking about people who might illegally possess a firearm."

Police data shows between March 2019 and October this year officers encountered 7701 firearms related incidents, which is an average of eight per day.

That can include reports of gunshots, confiscation of weapons, as well as more serious events.

Mitchell said that number's too high.

"We shouldn't be a country where Police on a daily basis are having to deal with and face gang members, better armed than they are", he said.

"Our frontline Police officers have to have the tactical ability to be able to deal with those situations.

"The Police are undergoing a review on that.

He said general arming should be a last resort, and there's got to be more training and easier access to firearms.

"The best thing [Police] can do right now is reassert themselves with strong leadership and getting better control of the gangs."

Following Epiha's sentencing Police Commissioner Andrew reassured the public they're doing all they can to keep their staff safe.

"Our tactical response model has brought together everything that we know about what we can do to improve safety and we're putting those things in place, I'm really looking forward to the step change that that will bring for our people.

"They should be able to go home at the end of their shift safely to their loved ones."

Work is ongoing to ensure there're sufficient controls around accessing firearms.

Police are also continuing Operation Tauwhiro, a project that's been extended until March, which has led to more than a thousand unlawfully held guns being seized,

"We're really concerned about the prevalence of gun crime that we're seeing", Coster said.

Cahill told 1News that there've been some good changes in recent times.

"Obviously we're going to have Police looking at how they administer that Firearms Act... and I think if we combine that with the [gun] registry we can start tightening up who actually has firearms and are they the right sort of people."

Hugh Devereux-Mack of the Council of Legal Firearms Owners said, "There are around 250 thousand licensed firearms owners who use guns every day.

"They're normal doctors, lawyers, builders, everyone you can think of.

He said the council wants to see movement on the independent authority that was promised as part of the law changes, to relieve pressure on Police.

"That means the Police can focus on going after the criminals, rather than the administration and paperwork around the licencing system."

Coster said, "We need to make sure the right controls are in place and i think many of the right things are happening as a result of changes to legislation that were made following the Christchurch attacks."