27 May 2020

Police Commissioner: 'High threshold' for routine use of armed police

10:14 am on 27 May 2020

Police Commissioner Andrew Coster says there would have to be a "very high threshold" for him to change his belief that New Zealand's police should not be routinely armed.

Police Commissioner Andrew Coster.

Police Commissioner Andrew Coster. Photo: Pool / NZME

Following last year's mosque shootings, police launched a six-month Armed Response Team trial as a way to tackle a rise in gun crime. The trial was met with strong opposition and Māori justice advocates called for it to be stopped.

"I believe the style of policing that is right for New Zealand is a generally unarmed service, and it would be a very high threshold for me to move away from that position," Police Commissioner Andrew Coster told Morning Report.

His predecessor Mike Bush's long-standing position was that neither the police nor the public were safer if police were routinely armed, and he was committed to that even as he stood down this year.

Coster said police were evaluating the Armed Response Team trial with an open mind.

"There has been a very strong reflection about Armed Response Teams, and it seems to me there were concerns about the appropriateness of that style of policing.

"I'm really open to hearing from communities about that."

A One News investigation revealed the police were repeatedly told trialling armed officers on a patrol would not be worthwhile. Documents showed that researchers in charge of evaluating the trial had raised concerns about its length and the lack of baseline data before it had even started.

Coster said no evaluation could determine the right style of policing for New Zealand.

"I don't believe it can answer the ultimate question of what's the right thing for us to do.

"The question we're trying to answer here is what is the right way to ensure New Zealand police can respond to the environment that we have with firearms at the moment and how do we do that in the way that is acceptable to communities in terms of the style of policing that we want.

"That really is a conversation with communities and a conversation with our people based on what we learn from things such as this, what we know from the way our Armed Offenders Squad model works.

"We'll not be moving forward without a clear understanding of our communities' expectation about the style of policing they would have."

The key was whether police could access the equipment and skills to respond to an incident and he was not necessarily saying the answer was Armed Response Teams.

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