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Police’s New Tactical Response Model Will “Endanger Communities” And “End Lives” - Community Voices And Advocacy Group

Advocacy group People Against Prisons Aotearoa (PAPA) set out a series of failings and dangers in the police’s new ‘Tactical Response Model’, in a letter to the police sent today, which contains powerful community voices opposed to an armed approach to policing.

In late September police announced a new approach, involving “enhanced frontline training”, “improving frontline access to specialist capability”, and “risk-based deployment and technology”. The police said it would allow four weeks for feedback to be received by email, followed by a pilot of the approach over several months and a national roll-out.

PAPA maintains that the model represents a step towards general arming of the police, despite the dumping of the Armed Response Teams trial last year, following widespread public opposition. A recent Police review of evidence estimated that general arming would have led to an additional 43 people being fatally shot over the last 10 years.

PAPA spokesperson Jean Su’a said: “This is a move towards arming the police by the back door, when New Zealand made clear last year there was no appetite for that style of policing.”

PAPA’s letter lambasts the police for inadequate public consultation, as police claim they have conducted internal staff consultation and consultation with “community leaders”. It calls for another round of consultation, to go beyond the inadequate four-week period, which allows no real opportunity for the public at large to understand changes or express their concerns.

The letter also challenges the police to provide evidence of any growing problem that requires such a significant change in approach, which will likely be difficult to reverse. Changing perceptions of safety are not good enough reason to escalate police arming.

PAPA has submitted in the letter that these changes are likely to make communities less, rather than more, safe. Spokesperson Jean Su’a stated: “We want New Zealanders to be safe, but making it easier for police who are trained for Armed Offenders Squads to be deployed as part of ‘investigative units’ will only increase tension, risk, and ultimately violence.”

PAPA’s letter refers to well-documented evidence that increased use of force by police will likely have a disproportionate impact on Māori, low-income communities, and people with mental illness, as well as possibly violating Te Tiriti o Waitangi. The police have not explained what process, if any, they have followed to test the consistency of this model with Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

The letter includes anonymised excerpts from 15 community voices raising concern about this approach to policing. One person said: “Armed police in South Auckland make me fear for my safety … they do not make me feel protected.” Another submitter said: “I am afraid that people in mental distress will be killed.” Still another noted: “My brother is autistic and has had the police called because he seems ‘aggressive’ and is brown”, and worries about what this new model will mean for that person. These voices recount tragic stories of suicide attempts and other sensitive situations mishandled by the police, in particular because of access to arms.

The letter suggests that a better approach is for the police to speak out on the need for free essential services (to improve community wellbeing), to acknowledge that some police functions are better transferred to other organisations (especially missing persons, mental health, and functions involving contact with young people), to join calls by experts to end drug prohibition, to adopt non-violent conflict resolution training, and to make greater use of restorative justice.

PAPA spokesperson Jean Su’a: “We’re demanding the police de-escalate in the face of significant renewed community opposition - they need to stand down and stand back here to keep us all safe.”

PAPA’s letter is available in full here: https://papa.org.nz/tactical-response-model

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