National | Indigenous

NZ Police Armed Response Teams could create same issues as US - Justice Facilitator

America has endured days and nights of protest and rioting following the death of African-American, George Floyd by a white police officer in Minnesota a week ago.

The State's entire National Guard has been called out to restore order, and in other cities around the US, protests have been marked by clashes with police, riots and looting, also during in the middle of a pandemic that's still claiming thousands of lives there.

American Kainee Simone is a restorative justice facilitator at the Manukau Urban Māori Authority and is concerned that by imitating American policing New Zealand could end up with the same issues America is now dealing with.

“I’ve seen some of the armed patrols right up close and in person when there was a shooting down in Māngere a few months ago. They had shot off one of the streets where I work, and the police officers who were stopping cars just to see people IDs were actually holding the assault rifles in their hands while they talk to you at the window of your vehicle and that to me was really scary.”

In April Police finished a six-month trial of Police Armed Response Teams (ARTs). The trial involved new customised vehicles carrying teams of trained Armed Offenders Squad officers ready to respond to high-risk incidents. The trial caused concern because it was rolled out in highly-Māori populated communities including Counties-Manukau and Waikato.

Simone says she doesn’t think there is a reason for the police to be more armed than they have been in New Zealand.

“Because there are armed officers called for when the police feel that’s needed here. That’s totally different than having armed patrols that are armed and riding around waiting for often really low level calls like kids riding their bikes in the street, dishonestly offences which is how George Floyd was murdered. It was an accusation that he was committing a dishonesty offence.”

Simone came to New Zealand in 2015 on a working holiday when she finished university and has been here ever since.

“I think that is a huge danger that we are going to see things go that way here and think that the thing people need to be mindful of is that it’s possible. And that if you don’t pay attention to the police shootings that have already happened this year, you’re not critical and you’ve already placed your trust in the New Zealand police because you feel that they’re not as bad as the police in the US. It could very easily become the situation that’s more similar to the US than it already is.”

Police Commissioner Andrew Coster says the Evidence-Based Policing Centre will undertake the evaluation of the ARTs trial. This will include data collected during the trial, public perceptions data, and the views of police teams involved, as well as other relevant interested parties.

"We know that some communities have had some concerns about the ARTs and how they were being deployed. Now the trial is over, an evaluation will be done and the views of the community taken into account as part of that.”

The results are expected to be released at the end of June.