17 Mar 2020

Māori justice advocates want Police Armed Response Teams stopped immediately

12:53 pm on 17 March 2020

Māori justice advocates are seeking an urgent Tribunal hearing on the Police Armed Response Teams and are calling for them to be stopped immediately.

Police officers stand next to the new special patrol vehicle.

Police officers with one of the Armed Response Team vehicles. Photo: RNZ / Liu Chen

Special police patrol vehicles carrying armed officers have been patrolling Counties Manukau, Waikato and Canterbury as part of a six-month trial to cut down response times to serious incidents involving firearms.

But data released under the Official Information Act shows the teams were deployed 75 times a day in the first five weeks. That's 50 times the rate that Armed Offenders Squads were called out last year.

The application from the claimants, Sir Kim Workman and Julia Whaipooti, says the Crown has breached Te Tiriti o Waitangi by failing to work in partnership with, consult, or even inform Māori about the trial.

Whaipooti said there had been widespread opposition to the trial, and many Māori leaders have been extremely concerned about the likely impact on marginalised Māori communities.

"The greatest concern is that we know there is racism and police themselves have also noted unconscious bias in the way they police, nine times more likely to pull a gun on Māori than non-Māori, 10 times more likely a taser, 11 times more likely to use pepper spray.

"Now we are putting lethal weapons in the hands of police when we know they use them mostly against Māori communities, that is really hōhā and it tells me we are putting racist policies into systemic practice of police - knowing that it tells me that Māori lives don't matter."

Sir Kim agreed.

"When the Crown established an unarmed civilian police in 1886, it was with the conviction that New Zealand would become a civilised nation, ruled not by fear, but through allowing citizens a voice in how they should be policed. The principle of 'policing by consent' has been breached, and trust in the police has taken a massive hit."

The claimants say trust in police by Māori is at an all time low - and the argument that the pilot programme is protecting communities is untrue.

"Why would we arm a force that Māori don't trust, so it's not for our safety because the people that don't trust police are Māori so that is something again a decision made about us, to happen to us, without us. We weren't even told about this," Whaipooti said.

The claimants are actively engaging with police and hope to work closely work with them on this issue, she said.

"It's quite clear to me that even within the police, there is disagreement with how this policy came about and the decision of this policy. We are ready to actively engage, our bottom line is that the armed response teams need to stop and they need to stop today."

The Waitangi Tribunal has previously found that partnership requires Māori to have substantive input into decisions that substantively affect them and that the Crown has obligations to consult with Māori in order to make informed decisions - in the case of Armed Response Team's - both claimants says this has not happened.

Police Deputy Commissioner Wally Haumaha said the environment in which officers operated was different to that of five or 10 years ago, with 2231 incidents involving firearms in the past year.

"We cannot pretend the risk to people and police officers is less than what our daily experience on the frontline is," he said in a statement.

The Armed Response Team was a new way of deploying the existing armed response provided by the Armed Offenders Squad - the difference was that they were immediately available and on patrol rather than on call.

"To date during the five months of the pilot our Armed Response Teams have not fired any shots but they have assisted in the de-escalation of numerous high-risk incidents and events.

"As part of this pilot we are consulting with the communities we are operating in, and we will listen to what people have to say about their presence before making any further decisions about deployment," Haumaha, who is responsible for Māori, Pacific and Ethnic Services, said.

"The pilot will be carefully evaluated with further review and consultation with key partners.

"We are very much aware that there is a need to ensure we have the balance right between keeping our communities safe and the need to keep our staff safe. "

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