18 Oct 2019

Fears armed police will endanger south Auckland further

From Checkpoint, 5:15 pm on 18 October 2019

South Aucklanders are fearful a new police initiative aimed at making their community safer, which will see armed officers patrolling the streets, will achieve the exact opposite.

Marked police vehicles carrying armed officers will start routinely patrolling Counties Manukau, Waikato and Canterbury in October as part of a six-month trial.

It's the result of what the Police Commissioner Mike Bush describes as a "changing environment" for his officers - particularly following the Christchurch mosque shootings.

But he is adamant it does not mark the start of routinely armed officers nationwide.

The new armed response teams will be based in Counties Manukau, Waikato and Canterbury, as the districts with the highest number of firearms seized, located and surrendered.

At least three trained armed officers - dressed in standard blue police uniforms -  will be operating out of special marked police vehicles.

They will be patrolling the streets seven days a week, most hours of the day and will focus on firearm and weapon related call-outs.

The police say the initiative will make communities safer, but in South Auckland, Kourtney Waitarehu says it will do the opposite.

"The policeman is just a person at the end of the day. And he might be having a bad day. And we don't want anyone having a bad day with a firearm," she says.

Janice Price would like to see the police using other forms of protection.

"I'd possibly be better off with tasers, that sort of thing. I do think the police need to be protecting themselves, but I certainly don't like the thought of like in America where I think really the police are running scared, and that's an awful thing."

In Waikato, Andrew McGiven, a former policeman and President of Waikato Federated Farmers, says the trial is a good thing for both farmers and the police. 

"Rural communities seem to be getting more and more of these incidents due to methamphetamine cooking, stuff like that because we're isolated and it's easy enough for that to happen out there.

"If it can help response times, because AOS can take up to an hour to assemble and get out there. It's good from a farmer point of view and probably from a police point of view."

Police Commissioner Mike Bush says they have been reviewing how they operate in the wake of the Christchurch Mosque shootings.

He says officers have responded to more than 1,300 reported firearm incidents since the March attacks.

He says the number of fire-arm related call outs is rising and this trial should address that.

But Mike Bush is adamant the trial does not mark the start of routinely armed officers.

Police Minister Stuart Nash shares a similar message.

"This is not about general arming. This is about specialised squads of men and women who have a unique set of skills that allow them to respond in a way that they haven't been able to, to date."

The trial will start at the end of the month and will run for six months.

The police will then seek feedback before deciding whether the armed response teams should be rolled out nationally.