The Greens have slammed the controversial Armed Response Teams trial as "a mess" and want police to rule them out in future, warning firearms overseas led to increased brutality.

It comes as protests about racist policing grow globally - including in New Zealand - in response to the death of African-American George Floyd at the hands of police in the United States.

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

The trials, which ended in April, saw teams of routinely armed police operating in Canterbury, Waikato and Counties Manukau - areas cited to have the highest rates of firearms incidents, but also in suburbs with predominantly Māori and Pasifika households.


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.

It has since been revealed police were warned before and during the trial about the "severe" consequences of not having consulted with Māori.

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

Police are currently evaluating the trials, and will announce results at the end of June.

In a letter written to Police Commissioner Andrew Coster, Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson said in the United States the regular use of firearms had encouraged a "culture of brutality, control, and distrust that endangers communities rather than protecting them, particularly black and low socio-economic communities".

"This is now unravelling communities in the US. New Zealand is better than this. And it is abundantly clear that we must not pick up failed police tactics adopted in overseas jurisdictions.

"We urge you to build on your comments in support of unarmed police, and emphatically rule out the continued use of armed police patrols off the back of the recent trial, which only increased tensions in the communities in which they occurred," said the letter, co-signed by Greens justice spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman, and also sent to Police Minister Stuart Nash.

Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson said there was no evidence further arming police increased safety in the community. Photo / File
Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson said there was no evidence further arming police increased safety in the community. Photo / File

Davidson said as had become clear in the United States, the increased use of firearms by police did not equal safer communities, particularly for victims of racism.

"The death of George Floyd is not an isolated event. These deaths occur within a justice system with a deeply embedded culture of systemic racism and violence."

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There were similar issues in New Zealand, she said.

"Here in Aotearoa, sound research exists to show our police and justice mechanisms disproportionately target Māori and other communities of colour.

"Many are justifiably worried about discrimination that results in increased police brutality and death among those communities."

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.

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

"We must not have police officers with potential racial biases actively patrolling low-socio economic, black and brown communities, armed with guns that could result in serious harm, including deaths," Davidson said.

Documents released to the Herald under the Official Information Act, showed the ARTs 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".

Davidson told the Herald the trial had been a "mess" from the start.

Police have previously acknowledged "unconscious bias" in the force and made attempts to address it, but Davidson said police choosing not to consult with Māori ahead of the ARTs trial had further damaged trust.

"It has been widely acknowledged there is long-term, systemic racism within the police force, and many of us - myself included - have spoken of our experiences with that.

"But what they're doing to address it is clearly not enough. The lack of consultation shows it is still there, and to this day young Māori and Pākehā are telling me about the very different experiences they have with police."

Davidson said there needed to be a more "holistic" approach to policing, with stronger community engagement, along with addressing socioeconomic issues.

"All of those things make communities more safe, people less anxious, less likely to use arms or violence in the first place.

"It can't just be the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff - they've got guns, so police need guns, and everything just escalates. We need to understand better all the drivers of violence."

A police spokeswoman said they would not be commenting to media on Greens' letter.

They were currently evaluating the trial looking at a "collection of measures including Evidence Based Policing data, and feedback from the public and from our people", she said.

A spokeswoman for Police Minister Stuart Nash said the Minister did not support the "general arming of police", but as the ARTs trial was a police initiative, questions should be addressed to them.