Special police patrol vehicles carrying armed officers will start patrolling Counties Manukau, Waikato and Canterbury as part of a six-month trial to cut down response times to serious incidents involving firearms.
Police Commissioner Mike Bush made the announcement in Manukau, Auckland this morning.
The so-called armed response teams would be made up of police staff who are part of the armed offenders squad.
The armed offenders squad is normally on-call 24/7, but for the trial they would be routinely armed, equipped, mobile and ready to go to any events or incidents where they are needed, Mr Bush said.
Such teams were a standard feature of policing internationally, he said.
"The Police's mission is that New Zealand is the safest country. Following the events of March 15 in Christchurch, our operating environment has changed," Mr Bush said.
"The threat level remains at medium and we are continuously reviewing our tools, training, and capabilities we use to provide Policing services to ensure we remain fit for purpose."
The armed response teams would consist of a minimum of three specialist armed offenders squad personnel.
At times, they may be supported by additional staff, like specialist dog units.
Watch the announcement here:
"Police must ensure our people are equipped and enabled to perform their roles safely and to ensure our communities are, and feel, safe," Mr Bush said.
"This means having the right people with the right tools, skills and knowledge ready to respond at all times."
The three police districts chosen to host the trial have the highest number of firearms seized, located and surrendered, and have the largest armed offenders squad groups to support the trial.
"During the trial, armed response teams will be focused on responding to events where a significant risk is posed to the public or staff," Mr Bush said.
"They will also support the execution of pre-planned and high-risk search warrants, high-profile public events and prevention activities."
The trial would be evaluated to see what impact the teams have on staff and public safety.
Police Minister Stuart Nash said the trial did not mean the police were moving to routine arming.
The trial of the new teams will be closely monitored, he said.
"The safety of police officers and members of the public are given utmost priority when responding to dangerous incidents.
"It is also important that frontline police have access to the tools and resources they need in high-risk or critical events."
The teams would carry standard Glock pistols and Tasers and the standard Bushmaster rifles will be in lock boxes in vehicles.
"Nationally more than 1400 firearms have been seized from offenders since March," Mr Nash said.
"Police turn up to some callouts with no knowledge of what they are walking into. Every month police turn up to 200 incidents where a firearm is involved. Police intelligence indicates most illegally-held firearms are stolen from legitimate owners."
But South Auckland resident Kourtney Waitarehu was fearful the initiative, aimed at making her community safer, will do the opposite.
"The police man is just a person at the end of the day and he might be having a bad day and we don't want anyone to be having a bad day with a firearm. Some people don't do their jobs right either."
Janice Price would like to see the police using other forms of protection.
"I'd possibly be better off with tasers and all 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 the police are running scared and that's an awful thing."
In Waikato, Andrew McGiven, a former policeman and president of Waikato Federated Farmers, said the trial was 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 and stuff like that, because we're isolated and it's easy enough to let that happen out there.
"So if it can help the 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 but also probably good from a police point of view."
Armed Response Teams will be:
- Teams of a minimum of three armed, armed offenders squad trained staff with a specialist vehicle equipped with tactical options
- Operating seven days a week
- Focused on responding to events where a significant risk is posed to the public or staff and supporting the execution of pre-planned and high-risk search warrants, high-profile public events and prevention activities
- Trialled for a period of six months in Counties Manukau, Waikato and Canterbury Police Districts
- Evaluated by Police's Evidence Based Policing Centre to see whether the use of ARTs make staff and communities be, and feel, safe.