Police Minister Poto Williams will not be backing down on her strong stance not to support the general arming of police because the Māori and Pacific Island communities she represents do not want it.
The National Party meanwhile has called for Armed Response Teams (ARTs), which were controversially trialled in 2019, to be reinstated, but is also not in support of arming all police.
Williams' comments come during the trial of the man who admits murdering Constable Matthew Hunt during a routine traffic stop, but has denied the attempted murder of a second officer.
A Hamilton officer was also injured by a firearm during a routine traffic check this month.
And police in Hamilton and Auckland were last week confronted by armed offenders prompting calls from Police Association president Chris Cahill for more frontline police to be armed because of a growing number of criminals carrying guns.
Williams told Newstalk ZB's Mike Yardley this morning that she supported police officers being armed when they needed to be, but did not think it should extend to the permanent arming of the force nor the controversial ARTs.
This was because she had listened to overwhelming feedback from the Māori, Pacific Island and South Auckland communities who didn't want it.
They were telling her "loud and clear" that the general arming of police and the Armed Response Teams (ARTs) were a real concern to them and had been distressed to learn armed police were routinely patrolling their streets, she said.
Yardley said he had received hundreds of texts after the interview.
"I have never seen the text machine completely explode as it has in the past few minutes," said Yardley, referring to listener feedback. "'Mike, I am a serving police officer, I have started the day listening to your show feeling unbelievably disheartened.'; 'Mike, the crims are going to be lapping this up'; 'Is she representing the views, concerns of all New Zealanders?'," said Yardley, quoting some of the feedback.
The Sensible Sentencing Trust accused Williams of "total rigor mortis" in dealing with gangs and firearms.
"Police are being attacked, assaulted, and shot at in record numbers and the minister needs to be making decisions based on their safety and ability to protect themselves and the community – not some politically charged implication that police are racist," said trust co-leader Darroch Ball.
"She puts officers and community safety a distant second to the 'community she represents'."
Minister: Māori, Pacific dealings with police 'not been that great'
Williams said statistics showed Māori and Pacific populations were stopped more, charged more, arrested more and for those communities having permanently armed police was a "real difficulty for them".
Williams also acknowledged the Māori and Pacific communities' interactions with police over the years "had not been that great".
Police data also shows Māori are nearly eight times more likely than Pākehā to be on the receiving end of police force.
During offender proceedings, force was used against Māori 40 per cent more often than Pākehā during 2019 - an increase from 24 per cent in 2014.
Research published by police show of the 107 police shootings between 1916 and June 2020 Māori were victims in 43 instances, Pākehā 37 and "unknown" 21.
In 44 fatal shootings, Māori were again disproportionately represented with 17 victims and Pākehā 12.
Between 2009-2019, two thirds of all those shot by New Zealand Police were Māori or Pasifika.
Generally arming police would also change the relationship between police and the communities they served, Williams said.
"If we generally arm the police we change the relationship we have as a community with our police service," WIlliams said.
"I'm talking with frontline police officers and other officers every day and there is a range of views, but one thing they are very clear of is having access to firearms when they need it and having confidence in dealing with scenarios are the things that keep them the safest."
Williams said she wanted police to return home safely to their families each night and was supporting them with this by ensuring they were well-trained and had access to firearms when they needed it.
"I won't support general arming because it will fundamentally change the nature of our relationship with our police."
Call for return of Armed Response Teams
The National Party has called for ARTs, which were controversially trialled last year, to be reinstated in response to reports of escalating violence towards police.
Police commissioner Andrew Coster in June last year announced ARTs would not be part of the New Zealand policing model in the future, saying the community did not support them.
This stance was backed by party spokesman at the time Brett Hudson, but today leader Judith Collins told RNZ they should be reinstated.
There needed to be police who were fulltime and specifically trained to deal with gun violence, she said.
However, she would not expect all police be armed.
"But what I'm hearing from people with the ARTs, is that people did want to have this and unfortunately the police commissioner gave in to a vocal minority who actually doesn't have to live next door to these people."
Police Association president Chris Cahill said he thought Williams' comments were "shortsighted".
He asked to see research that showed the community did not support arming police and questioned whether she had spoken to the wider community or "just the vocal minority".
During the ART trials police did not use firearms once, despite over half the calls attended involving firearms.
"She needs to look at the report into ARTs. They resolved matters in a much safer manner than normal deployment."
Research two years ago showed 69 per cent of association members wanted to be armed, but this would likely be much higher today, Cahill said.
The six-month ART was launched tt the end of October 2019 to tackle a reported rise in gun crime and to boost police capabilities after the Christchurch mosques terrorist attacks.
The trials, which ended in April, took place in Canterbury, Waikato and Counties Manukau - areas cited to have the highest rates of firearm crime.
But almost immediately there were outcries about a lack of community consultation, particularly from Māori.
In the end, more than half of the arrests and use of force by ART members were against Māori.
Armed officers also dealt with eight 12-year-olds - seven of whom were Māori. A quarter of callouts were also for minor offences including traffic violations.
Documents released by police after the trial highlighted the process was inherently flawed from the outset, with a lack of community consultation - particularly with Māori - a major factor.
Herald readers respond
Herald readers issued a strong message of disagreement in response to Williams' stance.
A number of readers responded saying they wanted to remind the minister she represented all New Zealanders and not just Māori and Pacific Islanders.
Other readers said police should be armed because of the danger they face in their roles.
"Sometimes it doesn't pay to 'be kind', criminals don't understand the sentiment!" one reader wrote.
"Why should they put their lives at risk when the Government doesn't care a hoot."
However, not all disagreed with the Police Minister, some readers responded by saying they feared it might encourage more criminals to carry guns and result in an escalation of firearms-related violence.