3 Nov 2020

Armed police trial popular with officers, less so with the public

6:09 pm on 3 November 2020

A trial of armed police has found the frontline officers like them but some members of the public were less enthusiastic.

Police officers stand next to the new special patrol vehicle.

Police pose with the special patrol vehicle trialled with armed officers in Auckland, Waikato and Christchurch. Photo: RNZ / Liu Chen

In June, police commissioner Andrew Coster announced that Armed Response Teams would not be part of the New Zealand policing model in the future.

Police have released the evaluation into the trial which was launched in Counties Manukau, Waikato and Canterbury in October last year and ended in April.

It shows the teams attended more than 8269 incidents across the three districts.

Almost a quarter (23 percent) were classed as emergency events and the average emergency response time was eight minutes. The teams were busiest at weekends between 10pm and 1am.

More than half of those emergency incidents involved a firearm, although firearm offences accounted for 2.6 percent of all incidents the teams attended.

The survey found widespread regional variation in firearms offences - teams in Counties Manukau were nearly twice as likely to attend firearms related events than those in Canterbury, and over six times more likely than the Waikato teams.

Throughout the trial, no officer fired a gun, although they drew their weapons five times. Officers were more likely to draw a taser as a visual deterrent, although these were only fired twice.

It found that on average, in 67 percent of cases the teams were sent to assist frontline officers their expertise in special tactics was not required.

Instead, the teams provided support to their frontline colleagues.

The report found frontline officers felt safer, that incidents were dealt with more efficiently and they felt supported and received mentorship and guidance from the team members.

In an effort to canvas public opinion, police commissioned a national survey about the public's understanding and support for the teams. It found 72 percent supported the trial, though support was split among those who strongly supported the initiative (38 percent) and those who simply supported the trial (34 percent). The report found even though the survey was nationally representative, it was small, with only 574 responses.

The report also noted that a lack of consultation, particularly with Māori and Pasifika communities, caused problems.

"It is clear from feedback received that many viewed the lack of early and meaningful consultation with the public, iwi and community groups as a significant issue, a threat to police legitimacy and a potential cause of future community tensions," the report says.

Some members of the public pointed to the threat from firearms as a questionable operational justification, while others pointed out that the communities police were protecting were not asked if they wanted armed police patrolling their streets.

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