Ron Mark calls for independent review into frontline police being armed with military-grade assault rifles

New Zealand First MP Ron Mark is calling for an independent review into the arming of frontline police officers with military-grade assault rifles.

In a statement, the party's firearms spokesperson said it was time to "reconsider the decision to put military-grade assault rifles into the hands of frontline police in the streets of suburban New Zealand".

He wants an "independent review into why frontline officers are being armed with military-grade assault rifles".

It comes following Police Commissioner Andrew Coster's decision to not continue with the use of Armed Response Teams (ARTs) beyond their initial trial, which proved controversial. The decision was informed by a trial evaluation, public feedback and community consultation.

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

Their focus had been to respond to "events where significant risk is posed to the public or staff and supporting the execution of pre-planned and high-risk search warrants, high-profile public events and prevention activities". However, Newshub Nation found they often were used for traffic stops and there were concerns about the teams disproportionately affecting Māori and Pasific people.

Mark told Newshub he welcomed the decision not to continue with ARTs.

"It was a puzzle to me as why [police] needed another level of armed response. 

"You look at the situation as it exists, you have armed police carrying semi-automatic assault rifles in the boots of their cars, you then have this specially armed response team with a different level of capability, then you have the armed offenders [squad], and then you have the special tactics group, and then the Police Commissioner and Government has available to them the counter-terrorism commandos based out of Papakura and the SAS."

He said New Zealanders had military-style assault weapons taken off them following the Christchurch shootings last year, so it was time for a "rethink" about police access to the powerful firearms.

"Why do they need military-grade firepower for policing the streets in suburban New Zealand? I just think there's a fundamental question that now should be asked given the disarming of the public, and to be frank, given the global concerns that we are now seeing."

Mark expressed concern about frontline officers' training in weapon handling.

"We've always held concerns with the creeping militarisation of the police force given the Government already has multiple layers of armed response, across agencies."

Newshub has contacted the police for a response to Mark's comments.