Celebration or failed consultation? Police Association still at odds with Greens on armed cops

As the Greens hail the Police Commissioner's decision to scrap armed response teams as a victory, the Police Association says there was a lack of community consultation. 

Police Commissioner Andrew Coster said on Tuesday that armed response teams (ARTs) will not be part of the New Zealand policing model in the future, and Greens co-leader Marama Davidson is delighted.  

"This is something to celebrate. We commend the New Zealand police for listening to the public outcry during and after the ART trials. They have listened to the community, and made the right call," Davidson said. 

"Together we pushed for it, and we got it. The decision of police to rule out the increased use of armed response teams will mean our communities are better off."

But New Zealand Police Association president Chris Cahill said the Police Commissioner's decision to scrap the armed response teams "leave some vital questions unanswered". 

He said the initiative was "hobbled from the start because of a lack of consultation" and because there was "no clear communication on the aim" of the trials. 

"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 said. 

"What was unveiled to New Zealanders 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."

Cahill lashed out at the Greens last week after Davidson wrote to the Police Commissioner urging him not to arm officers, citing the death of black US man George Floyd who died after a violent police arrest. 

The Greens did not have a response to Cahill's latest comments.

Cahill said last week he was "appalled" at the Green Party's "conflation" of the armed police trials with the death of Floyd in the US. 

"To use the death of Mr Floyd as a conduit to make claims about New Zealand police discrimination... is offensive to officers who work in some of the most difficult, violent and fractured communities in our country."

He said the Greens are ignoring the proliferation of illegal weapons in New Zealand. 

"In 2019 police officers were attacked by someone wielding a gun 13 times and the number of serious incidents across the country where police officers are threatened or shot at, is at an all-time high."

The six-month armed response team trial ended in April.

Cahill said it was based on former Police Commissioner Mike Bush's belief that fully prepped armed responders were appropriate, particularly in areas of high gun crime such as the three trial districts of Counties Manukau, Waikato and Canterbury.

He said Police Association members were supportive of the concept based on safety factors where highly qualified and experienced officers would be able to deploy quickly to critical incidents, as well as support frontline officers.

But the current Police Commissioner said it was clear to him that the response teams did not align with the "style of policing" that New Zealanders expect. 

"I want to reiterate that am committed to New Zealand police remaining a generally unarmed police service. How the public feels is important - we police with the consent of the public, and that is a privilege."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Police Minister Stuart Nash have both said they do not support the general arming of police officers.