A trial of Armed Response Teams in three regions to support police tactical capabilities on the frontline has been announced today.
Police Commissioner Mike Bush said the move was aimed at reducing police response times to incidents involving firearms and minimise risk of harm.
The teams would complement the initial response to critical or high risk incidents by being on duty at peak demand times every day of the week, he said.
They would comprise specialist police officers who are part of the Armed Offenders Squad (AOS).
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"For the trial they will be routinely armed, equipped, mobile and ready to support our frontline with any events or incidents that require enhanced tactical capabilities," Bush said.
Currently, New Zealand's 17 armed offenders squad members are made up of nearly 300 part-time members who are police officers with general duties operating on a call-out basis. They have to return to the station, suit up and then head out when called.
The trials will be conducted in Counties Manukau, Waikato and Canterbury for six months, and hopes to reduce response times to firearm-related callouts.
"The Police's mission is that New Zealand is the safest country. Following the events of March 15 in Christchurch, our operating environment has changed," Bush said.
"The threat level remains at medium and we are continuously reviewing our tools, training, and capabilities we use to provide policing services to ensure we remain fit for purpose."
The teams will have access to a range of tactical options and on average will consist of at least three specialist AOS personnel. They may also be supported by additional staff such as our specialist dog units.
"Police must ensure our people are equipped and enabled to perform their roles safely and to ensure our communities are, and feel, safe. This means having the right people with the right tools, skills and knowledge ready to respond at all times," Bush said.
The three police districts have been chosen for the trial because they had the highest number of firearms incidents and the largest AOS groups to support the trial.
"During the trial, ARTs will be focused on responding to events where a significant risk is posed to the public or staff. They will also support the execution of pre-planned and high-risk search warrants, high-profile public events and prevention activities," Bush added.
The trial will be evaluated to see what impact, ARTs has on staff and public safety to be undertaken by the Evidence Based Policing Centre (EBPC).
The trial was likely to spark debate about whether it will lead to an increased presence of armed police and how that could affect community safety.
Police Minister Stuart Nash said the focus of the new trial would be on the safety of frontline officers and members of the public.
"Police are continually reviewing the way they respond to high-risk incidents and ensure community safety during critical events. The trial...is the latest feature of that ongoing reassessment.
"The trial of these new teams will be closely monitored and does not mean that police are moving to routine arming."
Nash said more than 1400 firearms have been seized from offenders since March and that police attended up to 200 incidents involving firearms every month.
"Police need to be able to respond in a way that keeps themselves and the public safe. They will carry standard Glock pistols and Tasers and the standard Bushmaster rifles will be in lock boxes in vehicles."
Armed Response Teams:
• Minimum of three armed, AOS trained staff with a specialist vehicle equipped with tactical options
• Operating seven days a week
• Focused on responding to events where a significant risk is posed
• Trialled for a period of six months in Counties Manukau, Waikato and Canterbury Police Districts
• Evaluated by Evidence Based Policing Centre to see whether the use of ARTs make staff and communities be, and feel, safe.