Podcast: The Detail

Reading the room on armed police

The new police commissioner is ditching Armed Response Teams after a trial that caused huge disquiet - in particular at the way they were aimed at largely Māori and Pasifika communities. 

The scrapping of the pilot for police Armed Response Teams comes as a huge relief to advocates who spoke out against more cops with guns.

This week, new Police Commissioner Andrew Coster said it's clear from public feedback that New Zealanders don't want that style of policing.

But issues like a lack of consultation with the communities the teams were going into, and next to no records of call-outs, paint a flawed process.

In today's episode, The Detail’s Jessie Chiang speaks to RNZ reporter Jordan Bond about what went wrong with the trial.

It was pitched as a response to the March 15 mosque terror attacks. Police commissioner at the time, Mike Bush, said "the operating environment had changed". Police didn’t have to run the idea past the Government as it was considered an operational move.

The Government however made its dissatisfaction clear, and the Greens continuously called for the trial to end. There were accusations the regions chosen for the trial featured strong populations of Māori and Pacific Islanders. Tens of thousands of people signed petitions against the teams, and a group called Arms Down NZ formed to get rid of them.

The trial had ended and a decision on its future was pending when the Black Lives Matter protests broke out in the US, triggering marches against police brutality and racism all over the world – including in New Zealand.

Andrew Coster’s announcement came before the trial has even been fully evaluated, although he has said New Zealand’s situation is quite different to that of the US.

Jordan Bond says the ART idea was only made public, and most people only found out about it, about a week before the teams started last October. The idea was to get armed offenders squads out to jobs faster, in what might be critical minutes. The police association said firearms incidents were getting more numerous – and you just don’t know who has a gun until you get there. The trials took place in the three districts where firearms seizures were the most numerous – Canterbury, Waikato and Counties Manukau.

But when they got going, it turned out police with pistols on their hips were stopping people routinely just to keep themselves busy.

“It’s clear from the data that there just isn’t that amount of crime to have full time armed response teams involved in high risk incidents for 20 hours a day,” Bond says.

Want more from The Detail? Find past episodes here.

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