Police scrap armed response teams following strong criticism

By Jessica Tyson

Police have announced the armed response teams (ARTs) will not be part of the New Zealand policing model.

The six-month ARTs trial involved customised vehicles carrying teams of trained Armed Offenders Squad officers ready to respond to high-risk incidents.

The trial, which ended in April, caused concern because it was rolled out in highly Māori-populated communities including Counties-Manukau and Waikato.

Police Commissioner Andrew Coster says the decision announced today was based on preliminary findings from the trial evaluation, feedback from the public and consultation with community forum groups.

“It is clear to me that these response teams do not align with the style of policing that New Zealanders expect. We have listened carefully to that feedback and I have made the decision these teams will not be a part of our policing model in the future.”

Tame Iti shares concern over Police armed response team trial / Te Ao

Feedback from the public showed concerns over a lack of consultation with Māori about the trial.

Manukau Urban Māori Authority justice facilitator Kainee Simone was concerned that by imitating American policing, New Zealand could end up with the same issues America is dealing with.

“I’ve seen some of the armed patrols right up close and in person when there was a shooting down in Māngere a few months ago. They had shut off one of the streets where I work, and the police officers who were stopping cars just to see people IDs were actually holding weapons in their hands while they talk to you at the window of your vehicle and that to me was really scary.”

Simone says there is no reason for police in New Zealand to be more armed than they already are.

“That's because there are armed officers called for when the police feel that’s needed here. That’s totally different from having armed patrols that are armed and riding around waiting for often really low-level calls like kids riding their bikes in the street, and dishonestly offences, which is how George Floyd was murdered (in Minneapolis) It was an accusation that he was committing a dishonesty offence.”

Police should not be armed at all times - Shane Jones / Te Ao

Academic Sharna Tamatu, who is studying Treaty-based social practice, has been advocating against the Arms Act Bill because of harm she thinks it could bring to Māori.

“We are definitely thankful for the news from Andrew Coster. However, we cannot ignore why this trial was done. We need to know what is going to change in terms of how police and community are going to work collectively. There needs to be movement, we need to see this change.”

Coster says police will now look at ways critical response options can remain fit for purpose.