Police Association angered by Green Party's letter rallying against armed cops in wake of George Floyd's death

The Green Party has angered the Police Association by sending a letter to the Police Commissioner urging him not to arm officers, in the wake of a US cop facing a murder charge over the death of George Floyd. 

The letter, penned by Greens co-leader Marama Davidson and justice spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman, warned the Police Commissioner against implementing the recent trial of Armed Response Teams across New Zealand. 

"We only have to look to the United States to see how violent things can get under a militarised police force," Davidson said. "This is especially so for minorities and communities of colour."

Ghahraman added, "The police have the chance to stop New Zealand shifting towards dangerous, military-style policing. We urge them to take that opportunity by heeding our call to rule out armed patrols."

The police are currently evaluating the six-month Armed Response Team trial that ended in April, and the Green MPs said it is their "request" that the police "rule out any adoption" of armed patrols. 

The letter did not go down well with New Zealand Police Association president Chris Cahill who said on Friday 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 that results in increased police brutality and death among communities in Aotearoa is offensive to officers who work in some of the most difficult, violent and fractured communities in our country."

Cahill said on behalf of the Police Association's thousands of members, "I object to this overt inference that they are to be held up as the problem."

Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson.
Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson. Photo credit: Getty

He said there is "no denying" that Māori are over-represented in most of the negative statistics in New Zealand, from the prison population to poor health and education outcomes, to mental health trauma and other socio-economic data. 

Cahill also said he doesn't deny that there "have been, and probably still are, cases of institutional bias" within police. But he said there is "considerable ongoing work to address this". 

Cahill said the Greens are ignoring the proliferation of illegal weapons throughout many communities 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."

That's despite the Government's gun buyback scheme. As of May, 61,332 prohibited guns had been collected, destroyed or modified, while $102 million had been paid out in compensation. 

Cahill said taking firearms away from police "will not solve this problem".

Police Association president Chris Cahill.
Police Association president Chris Cahill. Photo credit: The AM Show

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Police Minister Stuart Nash both said earlier this week they do not support the general arming of officers, but they said it's ultimately an operational matter for the police.  

Finance Minister Grant Robertson said on Friday Cabinet provided feedback to the Police Commissioner "about our concerns early on" and said he's "sure" the commissioner will take them into account. 

"I think he's fully aware of where the Cabinet's views were at that time but ultimately these are decisions that he will take, in line with the feedback he's getting. I'm sure he's getting a large amount of feedback just as we all are."

The Labour Party Māori Caucus released a statement on Wednesday backing the Prime Minister's position against the general arming of police. 

"Our whānau are united on this critical issue, and so are we. The Labour Māori Caucus, the Prime Minister and the Police Minister all oppose the general arming of the police," co-chair Willie Jackson said. 

Thousands of New Zealanders marched in solidarity with George Floyd on Monday, despite the current COVID-19 alert level 2 rules not allowing gatherings of more than 100 people. 

Police said they did not intervene because it would have inflamed tensions.