New Police Commissioner rules out Armed Response Teams

The Police trial using Armed response Teams was controversial.  The new Police Commissioner Andrew Coster has announced ARTs “will not be part of the New Zealand policing model in the future”.

NZ Herald (4 March 2020) – Police’s new Armed Response Teams deployed 75 a day

The new Armed Response Teams have been called out at 50 times the rate that Armed Offenders Squads were last year.

The teams were deployed 75 times a day in the first five weeks of a six-month trial that started late October, data released under the Official Information Act shows.

Police say the trial is going “really well”, the public is getting “good value”, and the teams have not fired a gun once.

“It sounds very much, given that volume, that they’re involved in day-to-day policing,” private investigator and former police officer Tim McKinnel said.

“I think a large number of them are going to be routine traffic stops… but we were told by the Commissioner [Mike Bush] when he launched them that they were to focus on high-risk armed situations, high profile public events.”

Even police admit the teams – which carry a pistol and have a Bushmaster rifle in the car – are dealing with some low-level crimes they come across.

Victoria University Professor of Criminology Simon Mackenzie said having roving officers with guns day-to-day, for no specific reason, would meet many people’s definition of routine arming.

Mackenzie said for police to say they were opposed to routine arming but then routinely arm some patrolling officers was “Trumpian newspeak”.

“So, of course, they’re going to be asked to respond to other calls and engage with any emerging events that happen nearby. The problem is that then brings police with guns into normal day-to-day business, policing in the community.

“That is not a good development, that is not what the trial is supposed to be about, as far as I understand it.”

RNZ (24 April 2020): Police Armed Response Teams trial to end on Sunday

Police Commissioner Andrew Coster said in a statement that the trial, which ends on Sunday, was about having specialist police personnel immediately ready to deploy to critical or high-risk incidents.

He said police know some communities have had concerns about the teams and how they were being deployed.

The Evidence-Based Policing Centre will undertake an evaluation expected to be complete in June, which will take into account data collected during the trial, public feedback and the views of the teams involved.

“An evaluation will only be one aspect of the review into ARTs. We will also consult with community groups and talk to our people and the teams involved with the ARTs,” Coster said.

Figures previously obtained by RNZ under the Official Information Act show armed response teams were deployed 2641 times between the 28 October and the 2 December in Counties Manukau, Waikato, and Canterbury districts.

This meant armed police have been attending more jobs in an average week than the Armed Offenders Squads were sent to in an entire year.

Last month, Māori justice advocates sought an urgent Tribunal hearing on the police armed response teams and called for them to be stopped immediately.

The application from the claimants, Sir Kim Workman and Julia Whaipooti, said the Crown had breached Te Tiriti o Waitangi by failing to work in partnership with, consult, or even inform Māori about the trial.

survey on New Zealand police’s armed response teams has found 85 percent of participants do not support the trial.

Justice reform advocate Laura O’Connell Rapira said 91 percent of people surveyed were less likely to call the police in family violence situations if they knew the police had guns.

NZ Herald (29 May 2020) – Armed Response Teams trial: Police warned not consulting Māori could have ‘severe’ consequence

New Zealand Police were warned before and during their controversial Armed Response Teams (ART) trial about the “severe” consequences of not having consulted with Māori.

The revelations are contained in a trove of documents released to the Herald under the Official Information Act, which also provide warnings the trial would likely not produce enough evidence to be adequately evaluated.

Reports from early stages of the trial also show the armed officers were routinely attending low-level incidents including routine traffic stops, and police recording of data was “exceedingly poor”.

The trials, which ended in April, took place in Canterbury, Waikato and Counties Manukau – areas cited to have the highest rates of firearms incidents.

Almost immediately after the trial was announced publicly on October 18, there were outcries about a lack of community consultation, particularly from Māori, who are nearly eight times more likely than Pākehā to be on the receiving end of police force.

RNZ (5 June 2020) – Armed Response Teams trial: ‘Bizarre’ holes in callout data

Police in the Armed Response Teams failed to record their callouts properly on almost every occasion during the trial’s first two months.

Officers were expected to record and submit data on every single call-out. In the first two months, data from five out of every six callouts was missing.

Police did not provide the total rate of responses for the remainder of the trial when asked by RNZ. Instead a spokesperson said the evaluation of the trial would “only be one of the factors taken into consideration as part of our decision making”.

Documents to police, authored by the Evidence Based Policing Centre (EBPC), state that records from the End of Deployment (EOD) forms should be filled out after “each operation or call for service” and would be “essential” to understanding how the patrols had been used.

Two months into the trial, just 17 percent of forms were completed.

“There is still a level of underreporting that, while not posing an immediate problem, means that a complete picture is not available. As a fraction of the number of incidents ARTs have been deployed to, the number of EOD forms received by the EBPC is still quite low (17%),” an EBPC document from January this year said.

A report from December stated: “These discrepancies likely reflect a general under-reporting of deployment activity and selective reporting practices across each district.”

NZ Police today (9 June 2020):

Armed Response Teams will not continue

Police Commissioner Andrew Coster has today announced that Armed Response Teams (ARTs) will not be part of the New Zealand policing model in the future.

The decision not to roll-out ARTs following the six-month trial (which finished in April) has been made based on preliminary findings from the trial evaluation, feedback received from the public, and consultation with community forum groups.

“Everything we do, we do to keep New Zealanders safe and feeling safe,” says Commissioner Coster.

“New Zealand Police values our relationships with the different communities we serve, and delivers on the commitments we make to them. This means listening and responding to our communities and partnering with them to find solutions that work for both Police and our communities. I have previously said that the evaluation would only be one factor in our decision making.

“It is clear to me that these response teams do not align with the style of policing that New Zealanders expect. We have listened carefully to that feedback and I have made the decision these teams will not be a part of our policing model in the future. As part of this, I want to reiterate that I am committed to New Zealand Police remaining a generally unarmed Police service.

“How the public feels is important – we police with the consent of the public, and that is a privilege.

“For Police, the trial was about having specialist police personnel immediately ready to deploy to critical or high risk incidents, to support our frontline staff where they needed enhanced tactical capabilities.

“We can only keep New Zealanders safe if we can keep our staff safe too. That is why Police has invested in the new body armour system, we have strengthened training, and given our officers more tools and tactical options.

“Having listened to feedback from our people through the trial, we are also undertaking a programme of work looking at our broad tactical capability to ensure our critical response options remain fit for purpose. Through this work we will continue to ensure our staff are well equipped and trained to meet all eventualities.

“We will still complete the evaluation into ARTs and that will now inform the wider tactical capability work programme.

“Any options that come out of that will be consulted with our communities to ensure we take a collaborative approach to policing in our communities.”

Police Commissioner confident lockdown enforcement was legal

NZ Herald: Legality of police action during covid 19 coronavirus lockdown questioned in legal quarters

Leaked emails from the police top brass show how legally exposed they felt when the country was ordered into lockdown in March.

Emails from Deputy Commissioner Mike Clement to district commanders and to the now Commissioner Andy Coster show a Crown Law opinion warning the police they had little or no power to enforce the lockdown.

That was the case for the first two weeks of the Government orders before the director general of health Ashley Bloomfield used the outdated Health Act to issue specific regulations.

The powers only come into play when a breach is obvious.

Clement said they “cannot direct anyone to do anything unless it is quite extreme in its nature and with direct and significant impacts for the health of others”.

But is this dated information?

Today RNZ:  Police Commissioner on enforcing lockdown: ‘I’m confident that we acted lawfully’

The Police Commissioner says he’s confident police acted lawfully in enforcing the level 4 lockdown. Emails leaked to the New Zealand Herald from Deputy Commissioner Mike Clement to other top officers share a Crown Law opinion warning police they had little to no power to enforce the lockdown during the first two weeks of it, and officers should be operating as though the country were at level 1.

Police Commissioner Andrew Coster told Morning Report police were “conservative” in how they enforced the lockdown early on while they got clarity around their powers.

“At the start of any operation we will ascertain what powers we have in order to enforce whatever it is we are trying to achieve,” he said.

“In this case we had powers under the Civil Defence Emergency Management Act and under a Health Notice. Early on the power we used were predominantly Civil Defence Emergency Management Act powers and those allowed us to give directions to people where it appeared that they weren’t complying with the lockdown controls.

“So that is what we were routinely doing and that was entirely lawful, where we took enforcement action early on it was for repeated, persistent breaches of directions given by police. So those were the powers we had, those were the powers we used and as I say I’m confident that we acted lawfully.”

Commissioner Coster said it was “challenging” for police early on in the lockdown, but is confident none of his staff overstepped the mark in enforcing it.

Enforcement seemed quite light handed generally.

“The direction to our people was that enforcement action needed to follow warning or direction to comply with the controls and a failure to do so and that’s in those early stages before the second Health Notice was issued, those were the powers we exercising, but we need to bear in mind the vast majority of people were doing the right thing, it was always our intention to educate and encourage before enforcement and that’s how we approached that period.

“It was fit for purpose at the time, as time went on and there was less excuse for not knowing and not complying was when we took the steps that we needed to under the Health Notice of more proactive prosecution,” Coster said.

Commissioner Coster said there is no confusion on police’s behalf now that the Health Notice is crystal clear.

It’s not surprising that in the rush to make lockdowns legal that mistakes were made, or at least that they weren’t ideal.

The Police Commissioner is happy with how it has been since the change in mid-April. Obviously this could still be legally challenged, but it’s impossible to tell whether the current legal situation would hold up in court or not if properly challenged.

Crime down through lockdown, mental health, self harm, domestic harm at ‘usual levels’

In a media conference today Police Commissioner Andrew Coster said that through the Level 4 lockdown has been a decrease in crime involving assaults, road policing and theft,

From RNZ: ‘We need to continue to stick to the rules’ – Police Commissioner

Police Commissioner Andrew Coster says police have dealt with 4452 breaches since the lockdown began, including 423 in the past 24 hours.

There have been 477 prosecutions, 3844 warnings, 131 youth referrals during the level 4 lockdown

Coster said over the course of level 4 there had been a decrease in crime in the area of assaults, road policing and theft.

Family harm incidents saw a rise in the first few days but this has dropped back to usual levels. Police had been focusing on this area, he said

Police data on mental health situations had remained the same, but Coster said that did not mean people were not suffering.

It’s fairly obvious why assaults in public, thefts and road offences will be down.

It wasn’t a surprise to see domestic assaults increase intially under lockdown, but good to see that they have settled back to ‘usual levels’ (which are still far too high but at least things don’t seem any worse now).

More detail from today’s Covid newsletter:

Police Commissioner Andy Coster today said that since the Covid-19 Alert Level 4, Police has recorded:

  • 4,452 breaches of CDEM or Health Act;
  • 423 of these were in the past 24 hours (to 6pm);
  • 477 prosecutions, 3,844 warnings, 131 youth referrals;
  • 2,989 reassurance checks at essential facilities 20-22 April;
  • Over that same period, 3,144 patrols were completed; and
  • Police have recorded more than 55,000 reports from the public about breaches.