22 Sep 2021

Watch: Police tactical teams, extra staff and training announced in $45m safety package

4:29 pm on 22 September 2021

Police Minister Poto Williams and Police Commissioner Andrew Coster have announced a $45m package to fund new police tactical teams, extra staff, enhanced intelligence, and training to ensure the safety of frontline officers.

Watch the media conference here:

There were 106 extra roles announced, which would include 78 constables and 28 intelligence analysts, while more frontline staff would also receive increased tactical training, up from 3.5 days to 7.5 days a year.

It would include new scenario-based training focused on appropriate tactical responses and de-escalation.

Announcing the move alongside Police Commissioner Andrew Coster at the Police College in Porirua this morning, Police Minister Poto Williams said $15.496m would go to a new tactical response model, with teams that would not be routinely armed, but would be supported by AOS-level training and intelligence analysts.

"The new tactical response model is not armed response teams," Williams said.

"These officers will wear standard police uniforms, drive standard police vehicles, and will not be armed in their day-to-day duties. They will support frontline investigation and prevention teams and will focus on high-risk offenders, firearms, methamphetamine, and organised crime groups."

There would also be two-person teams Tactical Dog Teams, also including a staff member with AOS-level training.

Coster said the plan was to roll out the AOS-level training to about 200 officers.

The Armed Response Teams carried weapons and had special vehicles. Frontline police were in favour of the teams but they were less popular with the public.

The ARTs never fired a gun during their six-month trial, but drew their weapons five times and used tasers twice. They were also criticised for attending callouts with children as young as 12, almost all of whom were Māori.

Some feared the teams - who were patrolling in areas largely populated by Māori and Pacific Islanders - would unfairly target those groups, and indeed more than half of their arrests were of Māori.

Coster announced after the trial that they would not be going ahead, though the National Party has called for their return.

The new tactical teams would carry out warrants and other work involving moderate risk, Williams said, and would be generally unarmed unless the situation required it.

A survey released last month showed 73 percent of police supported general arming of frontline officers after the killing of officer Matthew Hunt and the high-profile prosecution of his killer, but Williams, Coster and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern have remained staunchly against such a move.

Today, Coster said frontline officers faced increasing threats from those willing to use violence and the new Tactical Response Model would improve their safety.

"Over the past year, there has been a great deal of work undertaken by Police's Frontline Safety Improvement Programme that listened to more than 1250 staff around their concerns and ideas to improve staff safety. We have engaged with Māori, Pacific and Ethnic community leaders, and taken on board feedback from those who shared their thoughts on Armed Response Teams," he said.

"For a member of the public, this won't look any different to what they see today. That's important to us because we want to remain approachable and have that connection with the community as part of our everyday policing."

Coster said nothing was more important to police than the safety of their people and the safety of their communities.

"It will enhance our capability to prevent, and resolve critical incidents," he said. "We remain committed to being a generally unarmed police service."

Williams said the government was committed to ensuring police has the resources to keep themselves and communities safe, and police had consulted with frontline staff and community partners in developing the new model.

"We can never eliminate the risk from policing. But this funding will go a long way to ensuring our officers are prepared and supported in their work," Williams said.

She said today's announcement was her most important as police minister.

Further consultation with staff, iwi and the wider community would take place over the next four weeks, after which police planned to test the model in some districts ahead of a national rollout.

Recruitment will start immediately.

Police Association president Chris Cahill welcomed the plan, saying the "proliferation and use of illegal firearms has changed this country's policing environment", a problem he said had been years in the making.

"Our member surveys have regularly identified the need for more specialist training, particularly firearms training. In our 2021 survey, 64 percent of members were satisfied with the quality of the training but only 28 [percent] were satisfied with the amount.

"A plan by police to double the training of frontline officers must therefore be considered a serious and well-targeted response to officer concerns. It will have direct benefits for the safety and the skills of those most at risk on the frontline of policing."

He said officers that had worked in the now-defunct Armed Response Teams liked the ability of AOS-trained officers to quickly be on site to de-escalate situations, but the plan fell short of its member surveys which were in favour of general arming.

"We are prepared to give this tactical response model an opportunity to deliver what our members so clearly need to police safely without the need for general arming."

Meanwhile, National police spokesperson Simeon Brown said placing AOS-trained officers within the Tactical Prevention Team and dog units was the same as the Armed Response Teams model.

"The government has wasted months refusing to agree with National that our police need more support. It's now finally realised how big the issue is and has introduced Armed Response Teams disguised as the Tactical Prevention Teams.

"Whilst this is good news for frontline police officers who have been facing increasing firearm violence on the frontline this simply reinforces the fact that the Armed Response Teams should never have been abandoned by Labour."

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