Former cop and Auckland Councillor critical of new armed police programme, but Deputy Commissioner says it's necessary

An Auckland Councillor and a former police officer have spoken out against police's new armed response teams (ART) pilot programme, saying they are unnecessary and will enhance prejudicial policing.

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Tim McKinnel and Efeso Collins weigh in on the debate, saying March 15 is not enough to justify the armed patrols. Source: Breakfast

However, a Police Deputy Commissioner says that the environment has changed - not only since March 15, but in general - with more firearm incidents being recorded and staff being put in danger.

Police announced on Friday that they will begin trialling ART teams, which consist of police officers in their usual equipment and uniforms, but with firearms in the vehicle ready to use.

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Specialised vehicles will carry members of the armed offenders squad to incident scenes. Source: 1 NEWS

The ART units will be deployed in an always-ready, always-mobile state, and one ART unit has already been sent to patrol Wairoa after shots were fired at the police station there, as well as an officer's home, last week. 

Auckland Councillor for Manukau Efeso Collins and former police officer and current private investigator Tim McKinnel spoke to TVNZ 1's Breakfast programme this morning about ART, after both made their views clear about it.

On March 1, Mr Collins Tweeted that "If you're brown and male you'll soon enough be shot at by Police who are 'protecting our communities'."

That was in response to Christchurch police routinely arming themselves after two incidents where officers were shot at - before the March 15 terrorist attacks.

Speaking to Breakfast, Mr Collins said he opposed the ART programme because of the unconscious bias present in all people - including armed police - will be made even worse with a trigger to pull.

"Unconscious bias exists, it exists in our classrooms, it exists in our workplaces and it will exist when police handle guns," Mr Collins said.

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Clarkson says the “hairs stand up on my arms” when she hears there will be more armed police on the streets. Source: Breakfast

"Of all the people fired at by the police in the last ten years, 66 per cent of those people are Māori or Pacific.

"We are over-policing these communities and they live where I represent - I'm really scared that all this is going to do is create even worse tension."

Mr Collins said he and the South Auckland community were not consulted by police before they decided to roll out the armed units, and said police need to focus more on building community than "a knee jerk reaction to what happened in Christchurch".

On Friday, Police Commissioner Mike bush directly referenced March 15 as a justification for the ART teams, saying that "following the events of March 15 in Christchurch, our operating environment has changed."

Mr McKinnel disagreed strongly that March 15 should be used as a reason to create armed police teams.

"I saw the Commissioner's stand-up press conference on Friday and I wasn't satisfied that the case has been made out for a roving armed police team to be in our communities," Mr McKinnel said.

"If you look at the Police response to [the March 15 terrorist attack], on any account it was outstanding, and to cite that as justification for the introduction of these teams - I don't think it's fair."

In a piece published on Saturday, Mr McKinnel wrote that "globally, terrorism has a history of eliciting oppressive opportunistic responses from governments, so we ought to be sceptical.

"There are good reasons for our communities to resist an increased militarising of police in this country - the most fundamental of those is the racially biased way policing occurs," Mr McKinnel wrote.

He told Breakfast this morning that he understands sometimes police do need armed officers to respond, and that there may be issues with accessing firearms when required - but that the case has not yet been made.

"If that is true, make that case out, show us the data, show us the research and then talk about it and consult with the communities about how to deal with that," he said.

"Commissioner Bush, to his credit, has acknowledged that racial bias exists in policing - so by introducing roving armed teams in places like Counties Manukau - I think we're at risk of that over-policing continuing, but in a far more dramatic and American style."

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Deputy Commissioner John Tims says there is a "changing environment" which makes armed police more necessary. Source: Breakfast

Deputy Commissioner John Tims also spoke to Breakfast to respond to the points raised, and stressed that the ART programme is a trial only.

"This is a pilot - this is not general arming," Mr Tims said.

"The 'why' behind this is really clear - you have to look at our criminal environment, which has changed over the last, kind of, 12 to 18 months, actually, but yes certainly after the 15th of March.

"Violence towards police and firearms in our community is greater than ever before - this is a real opportunity to make sure that our people are safe and that we keep our community safe."

Mr Tims acknowledged that police staff did a "fantastic job" of apprehending the alleged gunman on March 15 - without using firearms themselves.

However, he said the issues of armed criminals has been an issue since well before then, including in Mr Collins' ward.

"This is not just about Christchurch, this is about what's happening in Counties [Manukau] - you see firearms there every day - I've worked in Counties for many, many years in the past and so I understand the environment," Mr Tims said.

Responding on the issues of bias in policing, Mr Times acknowledged it was factor and said "we're working really hard in that around training and making sure we really demonstrate our values every day.

"It is about prevention first for us, it is about making sure that we work with our communities, work with iwi to reduce re-offending - so we're working really hard in this space," he said.

"This is not America - this is New Zealand - when you think about the engagement we have with our community it is the best around the world."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern also spoke to Breakfast about the issue, saying that while she is absolutely against the general arming of police officers, she does understand the need for armed police to be more readily available when needed.

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Armed response teams are essentially always-ready, always-mobile armed police teams. Source: Media Release