New Police Commissioner says he's 'fundamentally committed' to keeping officers unarmed

New Zealand's new Police Commissioner says he is committed to keeping the nation's police force a "generally unarmed" service.

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However, Andrew Coster tried to step clear of talking to the specifics of police's controversial armed response teams trial. Source: 1 NEWS

Andrew Coster spoke to TVNZ1's Breakfast this morning, but stepped clear of talking to the specifics of the controversial armed response teams trial, as he wasn't in the Police Commissioner role at the time.

This week, because of the work of Māori affairs reporter Yvonne Tahana, 1 NEWS and Breakfast have reported on a couple of issues around armed police in New Zealand.

The first: Revelations that police knew from the outset that the way they'd set up the six-month trial of their controversial armed response teams meant they wouldn't be able to prove if it was a success or failure. The short length of the trial and the lack of baseline data meant its value wasn't clear.

The second issue was that a major review is underway to see if the armed officers squad, which was established 56 years ago, is still fit for purpose.

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It comes a day after 1 NEWS revealed the police knew its trial of a new Armed Response Team had problems. Source: 1 NEWS

Also on Breakfast today, long-time criminal justice advocate Sir Kim Workman criticised police for breaching the Treaty over not consulting and communicating with Māori over the rollout of the armed response teams trial.

He said Māori are over-represented in the areas where the trials were taking place, as well as over-represented in police shootings.

But when asked why Māori weren't consulted, Mr Coster said, "it's probably not all that useful for me to comment on the past as a new commissioner".

"But what I can say is that I agree with Sir Kim that this is the fundamental question of our style of policing in New Zealand. We have to find a balance between how we keep the public and our people safe alongside a style of policing that's acceptable.

"I'm fundamentally committed to New Zealand police remaining a generally unarmed police service, and what we need to understand out of this is, how do we achieve that whilst ensuring we can deal with the range of challenges that our people face everyday?"

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Documents obtained by 1 NEWS reveal police were repeatedly told trialling armed officers on patrol wouldn’t be able to prove its worth Source: 1 NEWS

In October, then Police Commissioner Mike Bush announced a six-month trial of full-time armed police units in Counties Manukau, Waikato and Canterbury, with new customised vehicles carrying teams of trained armed offenders squad officers ready to respond to "high risk" incidents at any time.

The trial was sold on tackling a rise in gun crime not long after the horror of the Christchurch terrorist attack.

However, the trial immediately attracted criticism with the group People Against Prisons Aotearoa warning it could cause "American-style shootings", and justice advocate Julia Whaipooti claiming police were "designing into their policies and practice the right to kill Māori".

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Julia Whaipooti says Māori are at risk from the police’s controversial armed response teams. Source: Breakfast

This morning, Mr Coster said police would take a range of learnings from the trial.

"I suggest the learnings we will take will be quite operational, so what was effective in dealing with different situations with that kind of capability available?

"What the trial can't answer, nor will the evaluation answer, is what's the right style of policing for New Zealand? And that's where we are very open to a conversation with communities about what is it that they want to see, and then how do we find that balance to ensure we can keep our people and the public safe."

He said the trial was focused on what kind of capability is required and will make a difference to give police the best response to armed incidents, but added "the question of should New Zealand police be armed is a fundamental question that no trial can ever answer".

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