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The Detail: Will Armed Police Patrols Increase our Safety?

Questions over armed police patrols

From The Detail, 5:00 am today

picture shows the back of a police officer and a police
car with the siren lights on

Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

Armed police now roam parts of New Zealand, but many residents in the places being patrolled don’t want them there.

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The patrols consist of Armed Offenders Squad members in speciality vehicles, equipped with Glock pistols and Bushmaster rifles.

The six-month trial started last month in Counties Manukau, Canterbury, and Waikato – with the police commissioner, Mike Bush, citing a changing environment for New Zealand policing as the reason behind it.

Specifically, he spoke of the impact of the March terror attacks, and rising gun crime.

“Our deployment to that [changing environment] must be in a way to ensure we do everything to keep our police officers safe, so in turn they can keep the community safe.”

In the news reports following the announcement, few people living in the patrolled areas said armed police made them feel safer.

“It just encourages other people, criminals and things, to carry guns as well,” said one resident.

And with the trial now underway, former detective-turned private investigator Tim McKinnel has a query too; why do we need armed patrols?

“There are a pretty wide range of unanswered questions about why, and is this the best thing for our community.”

He says he was surprised to hear the patrols were starting.

“Twenty years ago, when I was in the police in South Auckland … it was important to consult and communicate and deal with community – community-led policing was the way policing was done.

“From my perspective, something like this is a fundamental change in the way we police, and I would’ve thought there would’ve been quite wide-ranging community consultation on something like this being implemented.

“As far as I can see, that’s not what’s happened.”

McKinnel also questions the legitimacy of using the March 15 attacks  as a rationale to introduce armed patrols.

“I’m not sure March 15 changed anything other than what happened on March 15.

“I hope it is under tight scrutiny, and I hope it’s properly examined.

“If you look at the way police here and in other countries deploy other parts of their arsenal – dogs and tasers, for example - then we see they’re disproportionately deployed against certain sectors of the community.

“In New Zealand, it’s Māori and Pasifika.”

Since the trial started, a petition calling for it to be scrapped has garnered more than 7,500 signatures.

A rally has also been held, with those attending saying they feared for the safety of themselves and their families.

McKinnel’s concern isn’t just the trial, but also what happens next. The police are planning a review in six months’ time – but he wants to know what success or failure would look like.

“What are the police doing to measure how these teams are deployed, and what ethnicities are they being deployed against?”

McKinnel acknowledges the police commissioner’s public admission that unconscious racial bias exists in the force, and last week the police launched their new Māori strategy which aims to reduce the over-representation of Māori in crime statistics.

But McKinnel says it’s too late to stop the trial now the teams are in place.

Made possible by the RNZ/NZ on Air Innovation Fund

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