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Canterbury police have attended to the highest rate of firearms-related call-outs in New Zealand over the last five years.
Police figures obtained by the Herald show between January 1, 2016, and July 31, 2021, the region had 2312 call-outs to gun-related incidents.
It makes up 15.3 per cent of the total number of 15,095 jobs attended by police over the same time period.
The data shows central New Zealand sits behind Canterbury at 1779 jobs, followed by Bay of Plenty at 1452 and Waikato at 1272 for the last five years.
With fire-arm call-outs remaining a high risk for police officers, many are choosing to wear their ballistic body armour full-time.
Police Association president Chris Cahill said the biggest concern he hears from officers is the uncertainty they face around firearms unexpectedly turning up at call-outs.
"It is the risk of finding them in what is thought of as routine jobs that gives them the most cause for concern because they're simply not prepared to deal with them in those cases.
"They're (the ballistic armour) designed to be put on when they know they're going to be dealing with firearms. But because there is so much risk out there now many are choosing to do that full time," Cahill said.
He said Canterbury police are at the forefront of that practice.
Canterbury also had the highest rate of firearm incidents recorded - for any region - over a 12-month period in 2019.
A total of 588 jobs were reported in the same year as the March 15 terror attacks.
But Cahill said police took a very proactive approach following the shootings to look at offenders or suspects that could have accessed a firearm, or whose social media hadn't been accessed.
He warned 2019 was an anomaly year, and some of the data may not show the full picture of firearm call-outs nationwide.
"But in saying that we do know Canterbury has one of the highest levels of gun ownership in the whole of New Zealand, especially with rural Canterbury being involved as well."
In the years after the Christchurch mosque shootings, fire-arm call-outs dipped to 416 and 193 in 2020 and 2021 respectively.
Separate police figures from Gun Safe launched in 2019 shows Bay of Plenty had the worst rate of 1061 incidents between March 2019 and July 2021.
Canterbury District Commander Superintendent John Price said changing dynamics within organised crime groups and the rise in deportees from Australian motorcycle gang the Comancheros, known as the 501s, is adding to the risk in the region.
"The commodity of choice from a lot of organised criminals is drugs – and what we have seen is an increase in consumption in the use of drugs through wastewater testing.
"That's also helped to create a competitive market within the organised crime environment for drugs," Price said.
But he said there is no evidence to suggest Covid has directly resulted in an increase in gang violence.
Price said the general reason criminals own a firearm is to protect themselves from other organised criminals and to stop products such as drugs from being stolen from them.
"Unfortunately, when they do that, they put themselves, members of the public and police at risk".
Last year the Government announced it would invest $45 million to enhance the safety of officers on the frontline.
"At the end of the day, I think we have seen some of the worst behaviours when a firearm is used. When we reflect on March 15, we reflect on the tragic taking of the life of Constable Matthew Hunt, these are events no community wants to see," Price said.
- By Georgia O'Connor-Harding