Police commissioner confirms no more Armed Response Teams in New Zealand

Police commissioner Andrew Coster says Armed Response Teams (ART) will not be continued beyond their initial trial.

In a statement on Tuesday, Coster said ARTs will not be part of the policing model in future.

"It is clear to me these response teams do not align with the style of policing that New Zealanders expect," he said.

The news follows widespread outrage over the proposal to arm police, with people concerned it would disproportionately impact Māori and Pasific people. 

Action Station surveyed 1155 Māori and Pasifika people and found 85 percent of those surveyed did not support the trial going ahead, 87 percent felt less safe knowing there were armed police in their community and 91 percent would not call the police for help if they knew they had guns on them. 

A petition delivered to Parliament pleading for the ARTs to be removed received more than 29,000 signatures. 

Coster says the decision to discontinue the trial was informed by a trial evaluation, public feedback and consultation with community forum groups.

"New Zealand Police values our relationships with the different communities we serve, and delivers on the commitments we make to them," he said.

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

The ARTs were brought in by previous commissioner Mike Bush following the Christchurch shootings in March 2019.

Bush said the six-month trial, which ended in April, would see armed officers responding to "serious crime".

However data obtained by Newshub Nation showed the ARTs mostly responded to traffic stops. 

"One of the concerns, when these teams were introduced, was they would be an introduction of armed units into routine policing by stealth, and looking at the data that's emerged those fears seem to be realised," said former police officer Tim McKinnel in May.

Coster says while ARTs have been discontinued, police have undergone strengthened training, and officers have been given "more tools and tactical options".

"We will continue to ensure our staff are well equipped and trained to meet all eventualities."

The New Zealand Police Association says while it understands Coster's decision to scrap ARTs, it is "disappointed" by the loss.

President Chris 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."

Cahill says the way the ARTs were "unveiled" left much to be desired.

"What was unveiled were vehicles that looked pretty sinister in comparison to the police vehicles we are familiar with, despite the fact that those everyday police patrol cars have Glock pistols and Bushmaster rifles in them for officers to use when needed."

While ARTs are no longer viable Cahill says an alternative to protect vulnerable communities must be presented as soon as possible.