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Vic police chief authorises officers to carry -

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Vic police chief authorises officers to carry semi-automatic hand guns

The World Today - Friday, 6 June , 2008 12:20:00

Reporter: Jane Cowan

ELEANOR HALL: In a major departure from her previous position, Victoria's Chief Commissioner of
Police, Christine Nixon, has decided to arm her officers with semi-automatic hand guns.

The Victorian force is still dealing with an unfavourable record on police shootings and
Commissioner Nixon had publicly expressed her reservations about the weapons. Her change of
position is being seen by some as a capitulation to the strident demands of the police union, whose
secretary Paul Mullett has been pushing for the guns for years.

But the Chief Commissioner says the decision is based on independent advice.

In Melbourne, Jane Cowan reports.

JANE COWAN: The vocal head of Victoria's police union has previously predicted - privately at least
- that semi-automatics would never be brought in while Christine Nixon was Chief Commissioner.

But today Paul Mullett is happy to eat his words and claim a win after a three year campaign.

PAUL MULLETT: (laughs) Today's announcement is a victory for commonsense really. It's a decision in
terms of being a no brainer.

JANE COWAN: The Chief Commissioner of Police, Christine Nixon, has made no secret of her
reservations about semi-automatics.

CHRISTINE NIXON: I was in New South Wales when their semi-automatic was introduced in 1996. And I
saw a number of members of New South Wales police injured during that time. So that's been part of
it.

JANE COWAN: But Christine Nixon says she has been persuaded by strong evidence gathered by an
independent external committee.

CHRISTINE NIXON: This decision has been taken with a great deal of thought. I wasn't about to be
rushed into it. But the view by many experts and also members within Victoria police is that this
would be an appropriate way to go.

JANE COWAN: Christine Nixon says she now believes most of her concerns about the tendency for
semi-automatics to jam and to misfire can be overcome by new technology.

CHRISTINE NIXON: I had asked this external committee to make ... give us advice on the way we should
go forward and so I've taken that advice and they've been able to convince me, as have others, that
a number of the concerns I had are able to be overcome. And so it is a time we make a decision, and
we have.

JANE COWAN: The debate about the adequacy of police weaponry flared recently when a police officer
was injured in a shoot out with a gunman, and questions were asked about whether he was trying to
reload at the time.

But the Chief Commissioner says her decision has nothing to do with that incident. Regardless, it's
a clear win for the union and Paul Mullett.

But one policing expert says the issue shouldn't be politicised or distorted by the ongoing power
struggle between the head of the union and the Chief Commissioner.

COLLEEN LEWIS: I suppose you could look at it about in the terms of who wins and who loses, but I
don't really see it that way.

JANE COWAN: Associate Professor Colleen Lewis specialises in policing at Melbourne's Monash
University.

COLLEEN LEWIS: She always said that she would listen to the experts and take into consideration
what people had to say. And it seems to me that's what she's done.

JANE COWAN: How much do you think the fact that Christine Nixon expressed such serious reservations
about semi-automatics including the fact that she said officers in other states had been injured
while training to use them.

How much do you think those public expressions of doubt have actually undermined the decision now
to bring them in after all?

COLLEEN LEWIS: It seems to me that she's probably gone and done some, or had some more research
done and considered the positives and the negatives of going to the semi-automatics. And obviously
the positives have outweighed the negatives.

So I don't see it as a backflip, I see it more as somebody who is allowing the policy process to
take its course in a very considered way.

JANE COWAN: The move brings Victoria into line with police forces throughout the rest of Australia.
But it's controversial here because the Victorian force has just finished living down a poor record
on police shootings in the past.

A semi-automatic weapon could do much more damage than a revolver if used indiscriminately in any
way.

The Chief Commissioner Christine Nixon says that prospect was on her mind as she deliberated over
this decision.

CHRISTINE NIXON: That's why the training will have to be intense and also to reinforce our
practices.

Now that period was back in 1996 and that era. The then management of Victoria police and their
members came to a project called Beacon which looked at the way we used force, and we've been able
to comply with that standard, certainly up to date. And so that's what we'll be continuing with.

This isn't about just giving people more firepower to be able to use it against our community, it's
about using force appropriately and reluctantly.

JANE COWAN: The Chief Commissioner says the new weapons will be brought in within six months.

ELEANOR HALL: Jane Cowan in Melbourne with that report.