People Against Prisons Aotearoa calls for 'bloodstained' police to be defunded following Armed Response Teams trial

An anti-prison group is calling for the New Zealand Police to be disarmed, defunded and abolished after the end of the Armed Response Teams (ARTs) trial.

The ARTs trial was ended on Monday after months of protest from the public. But while the battle may have been won, a prison abolitionist organisation says the war is far from over.

Emilie Rākete, a spokesperson for People Against Prisons Aotearoa (PAPA) which organised the Arms Down Aotearoa movement, says the disbanding of ARTs should just be the beginning.

"We are committed to disarming, defunding, and abolishing the bloodstained, racist institution of policing and replacing it with community justice." she told Newshub on Tuesday.

According to a 2018 police tactical operations research report Māori are seven times more likely to be on the receiving end of police using tasers, firearms and pepper spray.

As well as being more likely to experience force, data from the Department of Justice confirms Māori are overrepresented in the justice system and are four to five times more likely to be apprehended, prosecuted and convicted than non-Māori. They are also eleven times more likely to be remanded in custody awaiting trial.

In a statement on Tuesday Police Commissioner Andrew Coster said New Zealand police "values" its relationship with the community it serves, which informed the decision to disband the ARTs.

"How the public feels is important - we police with the consent of the public, and that is a privilege," he said. 

While ARTs will not patrol, police cars are still equipped with Glock pistols and Bushmaster rifles.

Coster told The AM Show there's a big difference between being equipped with a gun, and carrying one.

"We do have access to firearms when they're required but the point is, 99 percent of the time when we're interacting with the public we are not carrying a firearm and that, for me, is the style difference that's important."

Rākete says it's not good enough and PAPA intends to fix it. 

"The police have proven themselves incapable of ending their violent racism and so People Against Prisons Aotearoa will lead the community in doing it ourselves."

As well as opposing the police as a whole, Rākete says the way the ARTs trial was communicated to the public fell short of expectations - something the Police Association agrees with. 

The responsibility to share the feedback aspect of the trial fell squarely on the shoulders of community advocacy groups, Rākete told Newshub. 

"We have grabbed the police's hands and forced them off the trigger," she said.

The Police Association agrees the trial was not properly communicated to the public. President Chris Cahill told The AM Show on Wednesday police "failed" to inform the people properly.

"This allowed people who were real anti it [arming police] to lead the debate against it and, unfortunately, lead the debate with incorrect information."

Cahill said on Tuesday the initiative was "hobbled" from the start.

"[There was]  a lack of consultation on the concept of ARTs, and no clear communication on the aim of the trials," he said.

"If you don't build solid foundations on issues as potentially volatile as armed police, you can't possibly hope to take the community with you, and that is exactly what has happened in this case."