13 Nov 2003

Fiji police to establish Armed Offenders Units

11:10 am on 13 November 2003

Fiji police are to set up Armed Offenders Units to deal with people using guns in bank robberies and similar offences.

The decision follows Tuesday's robbery of the Bank of Baroda's Ba branch when three men and a woman armed with a rifle and a revolver fired at least five rounds during the robbery and two at the Ba police station.

They also shot out the front tyres of a police vehicle which attempted to give chase.

The commissioner of police, Andrew Hughes, says Armed Offenders Units will be based in Suva, the west and the north with officers having immediate access to weapons from a local armoury.

The officers will have strict rules of engagement to follow if confronted by armed offenders and will use weapons only in self defence.

Mr Hughes says the last thing he wants to see is an armed shootout, but it's their job to protect the public and bring offenders to justice.

He says he remains opposed to the arming of regular officers as there are other options to maintain law and order.

Mr Hughes says he's never seen a society that's benefitted from the introduction of more guns, and he's wary of a knee-jerk reaction to an incident he describes as "out of character".

"No, the levels of violent crime in Fiji are not on the increase, in fact, Fiji is a very safe place,...we have seen in the past month or two that crimes rates have plummetted - robbery and violence is now by 30 percent so it remains a very safe place, in fact you are one and a half times more likely to be the victim of a robbery in Australia or New Zealand than you are in Fiji"

Police Commissioner Andrew Hughes says the bank robbery highlights the question of security arrangements for banks.