22 Sep 2021

Officers 'will not be routinely armed' under new tactical model - police

6:19 pm on 22 September 2021

Police bosses and the government are adamant that permanently deploying 200 officers with armed offenders squad skills to specialist units will not lead to routine arming of police by stealth.

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Police Commissioner Andrew Coster. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

The new $45 million Tactical Response Model announced today includes rostered teams of 200 staff with high-level tactical skills and more training for other frontline officers to help them manage high-risk situations.

Police Commissioner Andrew Coster said law-abiding New Zealanders would not notice any difference in how police operated.

The new model was completely different to the controversial Armed Response Teams, which were scrapped last April after a trial in Counties Manukau, Waikato and Canterbury, he said.

"Armed Response Teams were routinely armed and they were in their down-time patrolling in communities.

"This model is about equipping our people with a basic level of training, all of our frontline, and having specialist responders who are available to be called on when required.

"They will not be routinely armed, and the duties these people do are more appropriate for the skill sets that they have."

There are currently just under 100 police officers with advanced tactical training.

Another 78 constabulary staff and 28 intelligence analysts would be needed, but Coster was confident police would be able to recruit them.

Acting sergeant Roz Humphrey from Palmerston North said the training she did in March had made her a better leader and more mindful of risk.

"Every day we go into risky situations and it's made me open my eyes a little bit more and realise I really do want to go home at the end of the day, and doing the course has made me feel a little bit safer just doing my job."

Sergeant Megan Diamond from Wellington said the week-long training had totally changed her mindset toward risk assessment after 11 years in the job.

She was looking forward to having more trained back-up rostered on.

"We had a job last week and the AOS (Armed Offenders Squad) came out to that. And there is a delay because they are on-call. So having this announcement today of that extra capability is very reassuring."

Police Minister Poto Williams said New Zealanders relied on the police and the government wanted to ensure they were safe as possible doing their job.

"For me the concerns have always been: do they have the resources they need and are they trained enough? This goes a long way towards addressing those concerns without having to generally arm our staff."

However, some officers said they would not feel safe until they had a gun permanently on their hip.

One in four general duties officers were threatened with a firearm last year, according to a survey of 6000 Police Association members released last month.

About 73 percent supported general arming of the police, the highest level in a decade.

Police Association head Chris Cahill said there was "a lot of good stuff" in the new Tactical Response Model, including better training, more availability of staff with Armed Offender Squad skills and double-crewing of dog teams, who were often at the "pointy" end of policing.

"You have to be realistic, there's no political appetite for general arming so this is better than nothing, in fact it's a lot of good things.

"So let's see how it works. Maybe it will change the environment and there won't be a need for general arming, but will have to see."

Coster said police had had good feedback from those who had already done the training, and he believed today's would be welcomed by those on the frontlines.

"Yes, there are some of our people who would like to be generally armed. We have looked at that very carefully and concluded that we are safer and the community is safer if we are unarmed."

Following a four-week consultation with police staff, iwi and the wider community, the police plan to pilot the model in different districts ahead of a nationwide rollout.