Police backtrack on towing Parliament protesters’ vehicles

Source: 1News

Police Commissioner Andrew Coster said threatening to tow the vehicles of anti-mandate protesters in Wellington had escalated tensions in an unsafe way.

Speaking to the media on Friday, he said de-escalation was now the only safe way to resolve the ongoing occupation on Parliament grounds.

“It was clear following our announcement of towing on Wednesday that there was a growth in the number of people in and around the site,” Coster said in response to a reporter’s question.

But he said towing protesters’ vehicles was still in the “toolkit of options”.

“Police’s current assessment of the situation is that any enforcement action runs a serious risk of much wider harm than the protest is presently creating,” Coster said.

“Enforcement action taken runs the real risk of injury to the public, escalation in numbers of people, and a transition away from a largely peaceful protest to violence.”

Police are warning anyone who tries to intervene may face arrest.

The Police Commissioner said officers had “constructive engagement” with “some key protest leaders”.

"We continue to carefully navigate our options to reopen the roads, but the most desirable way to end this safely is to encourage open communication channels,” he said.

“We are confident there is still a positive group of leaders we can engage with. They are constructive. There is management within the group of people's behaviour in a way that we are satisfied is keeping people safe.”

Coster said police were also anticipating a “significant number” of new protesters would join the Parliament occupation over the weekend.

He estimated there were currently around 800 anti-mandate protesters in Wellington.

“The number of people, structures and vehicles has continued to grow over the past 24 hours,” the Police Commissioner said.

“Today we will be putting in place a traffic management plan to control vehicle numbers to ensure that fire and ambulance vehicles are able to access the protest site.”

In response to accusations that police had abandoned Wellingtonians, the Police Commissioner said they had to “manage” the situation.

“I understand that perspective. This issue has mobilised a lot of people, and police need to manage this in a way that does not contribute to an already-tense situation.”