Armed Response Teams not being used for what Police said they would, ex-cop says

Source: 1News

Callout data for Police's trial of Armed Response Teams (ART) shows they may not be being used in the way the Police Commissioner said they would, a former cop and private investigator says.

Police Commissioner Mike Bush announced a six-month trial of full-time armed police units in October, with new customised vehicles carrying teams of trained Armed Offenders Squad (AOS) officers ready to respond to "high risk" incidents at any times.

Police's rationale included saying the policing environment had "changed" following the March 15 Christchurch terrorist attack, and that, at present, AOS callouts involve sending police back to the station to gear up and then deploy, costing valuable time.

On Police's page about the trials, their purpose is defined as being "focused on responding to events where a 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".

Information released to Radio New Zealand under the Official Information Act shows that ART squads were deployed 75 times per day during the first five weeks of the trial - about 50 times the rate of standard AOS callouts.

Speaking this morning to TVNZ 1's Breakfast, former police detective and current private investigator Tim McKinnel said the numbers show an example of "mission creep" - as in, the squads being used for policing outside of what police said they were for.

"When you look at the numbers that we're now seeing coming out of Police Headquarters about how these armed, militarised police teams are being used, its now clear they're part of day-to-day policing," Mr McKinnel said.

"They are getting involved in day-to-day, routine, low risk policing activities - probably a great number of motor vehicle stops.

'We don't know whether they are issuing tickets or they are stopping cars for other reasons but this is what the armed teams appear to be doing on a day-to-day basis.

"The Commissioner was very clear that these were to be used for high risk situations."

Mr McKinnel said police said when the trial was launched that ARTs would be used for "prevention activities" - which may have been a catch-all term.

"Prevention activities was a euphemism for routine policing." Mr McKinnel said.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said at the time that she remains strongly opposed to the routine arming of New Zealand police officers, and Mr McKinnell said most Kiwis are of the same mind.

"One of the things that most Kiwis are really proud of is that we have an unarmed police force," he said.

"If you're going to make such a fundamental change to the way we police our communities, I think the consultation, the communication, the rationale needs to be much clearer than it has been."

The statistics released by police showed that despite the high number of callouts for the teams, no guns had been discharged, which Mr McKinnel said calls into the question the need for the ART's existence.

"I accept that there may be an issue in policing that needs addressing, in terms of gang violence and access to firearms," he said.

"But the case is far from made out that these roving, militarised, tinted-out SUVs are the solution to the problem that police say they have."