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".

At the end of October, police launched the six-month trial, based on tackling a reported rise in gun crime, and to boost police capabilities after the Christchurch mosques terrorist attacks.

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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.

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Māori justice advocates Sir Kim Workman and Julia Whaipooti, a member of the Safe and Effective Justice Advisory Group appointed by Justice Minister Andrew Little, recently filed for an urgent Waitangi Tribunal hearing on the ARTs, calling for them to be stopped immediately and citing a lack of consultation.

"To my knowledge, there had been no consultation with Māori about this and that is a breach of the Treaty of Waitangi," Workman, of Ngāti Kahungunu ki Wairarapa and Rangitaane, told the Herald.

Former Police Commissioner Mike Bush at the South Auckland launch of the Armed Response Teams trial. Photo / File
Former Police Commissioner Mike Bush at the South Auckland launch of the Armed Response Teams trial. Photo / File

The trials were conducted in areas with a disproportionate number of Māori people, and those communities were also disproportionately targeted by police, Workman said.

Māori are nearly six times more likely to come into contact with police than Pākehā; police are nearly twice as likely to take legal action against Māori than Pākehā; and police are seven times more likely to charge a Māori person with a crime, even when that person has no police or Department of Corrections record.

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Between 2009-2019, two thirds of all those shot by New Zealand Police were Māori or Pasifika.

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"The evaluation design of the trial is totally flawed, as there was no consultation nor opportunity for Māori to comment or work alongside police," Workman said.

Police warned before trials

Researchers evaluating the trial told police before its launch the ARTs could "further compound already strained relationships with Māori and Pacifica communities".

Māori justice advocate Sir Kim Workman said he was not aware of any Māori groups consulted over the trial, which he said was a breach of the Treaty of Waitangi. Photo / File
Māori justice advocate Sir Kim Workman said he was not aware of any Māori groups consulted over the trial, which he said was a breach of the Treaty of Waitangi. Photo / File

Police were also warned the "increasing militarisation of police forces does not necessarily increase feelings of safety, particularly within ethnic and minority communities".

Because of already-existing public concerns about armed police, "maintaining trust and confidence between the police and public is essential", researchers warned.

A working group paper published in December warned of "severe consequences" the ARTs could be seen to disadvantage Māori, and recommended training, education and to consider holding bias training.

It also mentioned there was limited time to consult with Māori, Muslim and other ethnic communities, and recommended discussions with community leaders took place before the ART trial launch.

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The trial concept was approved by the police Executive Leadership Board on August 30, and the trial began three months later on October 28.

Police have not addressed questions from the Herald about how they responded to the recommendations.

Limited time to consult with Māori, Muslim and other ethnic communities was highlighted as a potential
Limited time to consult with Māori, Muslim and other ethnic communities was highlighted as a potential "severe" consequence. Image / NZ Police

Workman said failing to consult with affected communities before the trial had damaged trust in police.

A survey by Action Station of 1155 Māori and Pasifika people found 85 per cent did not support the ART trial, and 87 per cent said knowing police were armed in their community made them feel less safe.

"Had any meaningful consultation occurred with Māori, it would have been clear the ARTs were not supported," Workman said.

The trial was rushed and not conducted it in an appropriate way, but Workman said he was hopeful Māori would be included more closely in the evaluation and aftermath.

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"I've been in discussion with new Police Commissioner Andrew Coster and he has been very positive on that.

"The larger question will remain about what sort of policing is needed in these communities - should any police be armed, what alternatives are there, perhaps it could involve policing in a very different way and engaging the community in solving problems.

"It is just disappointing Māori were not involved from the beginning."

The Armed Response Teams trial was in part instigated in response to the March 15, 2019, attacks at two Christchurch mosques. Photo / File
The Armed Response Teams trial was in part instigated in response to the March 15, 2019, attacks at two Christchurch mosques. Photo / File

Matthew Tukaki, executive director of the NZ Māori Council, said the first he learned of the trial was the day it was announced to the public on October 18.

"I don't know of any Māori groups who were consulted on this. There was no discussion with the New Zealand Māori Council, despite repeated requests after we became aware of it."

Despite assurances police had no intention of arming all officers, Tukaki said the majority low-level incidents attended by the ARTs during the trial - according to initial reports - indicated evidence of potential "weapon creep".

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Of the 2141 events responded to in the first five weeks of the trial, 647 were for vehicle stops.

"They said it would be for major incidents, and then all of a sudden we are hearing reports the [ARTs] are involved in speeding incidents. And let's be honest, this is not occurring in Remuera - it's in Waikato, and South Auckland.

Along with a lack of consultation, the documents also revealed there was not enough time provided to conduct a proper evaluation of the trial.

"Unfortunately, there is insufficient time to establish a thorough baseline on current armed response operations and [Armed Offender Squad] deployments," the report said.

"This means that a detailed pre/post analyses will not be possible, leaving only the possibility for descriptive level analyses."

New Zealand Māori Council executive director Matthew Tukaki said police did not respond to their requests for hui about the trials. Photo / Supplied
New Zealand Māori Council executive director Matthew Tukaki said police did not respond to their requests for hui about the trials. Photo / Supplied

Despite the importance of detailed reports by officers, the pre-evaluation report of the first month found completion of survey tools by officers had been "exceedingly poor", and there were a vast range of inconsistencies and discrepancies in the data.

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"Surveys designed to measure perceptions around staff safety – which was highlighted as a core evaluation focus – have not been engaged with and no useable data has been obtained," the report said.

The pre-evaluation report for month two noted improvements, but suggested there were still issues with the quality of the data being recorded. The remaining reports have been withheld.

The Herald approached police on Thursday with questions in relation to all aspects of this story.

Police did not answer any of the questions, and instead issued a statement by email.

Police also declined a request for an interview.

An armed police officer guards Masjid Al Noor in the days after the March 15 attack. Photo / File
An armed police officer guards Masjid Al Noor in the days after the March 15 attack. Photo / File

The statement said an evaluation of the trial was now under way, and it would be "premature to predict what the evaluation might find", and also reiterated police were "committed to remaining a generally unarmed police service".

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"We recognise the ultimate question of the style of policing we adopt needs to reflect a wider conversation across our whole community, balanced with the need to make sure we can keep the public and our people safe.

"Any options that come out of the review will be consulted with communities as part of our efforts to take a collaborative approach to policing. How the public feels is important as we police with consent of the public, and that is a privilege."

The Herald's information request was lodged in November, soon after the trial began, but documents were not released until this month.

Legally, OIA requests are required to be responded to within 20 working days. Police said the delay was because of "workload volumes".