The New Zealand Council for Civil Liberties strongly objects to the Armed Responders trial by Police that is currently underway, and to the decisions of district commanders to order officers to carry firearms while on general duty.
The Council exists to help protect the civil liberties of New Zealanders from government overreach. A key area of concern is the actions of state security forces such as the police and intelligence agencies. This is the sharp end of government power, where a government can use force against people, spy on them, damage their reputation, or imprison them.
Since the Christchurch shootings the New Zealand Police have undertaken a number of measures aimed to increase their access to and use of firearms. These are ill-informed and counter-productive efforts. There have been no reported incidents where inadequate firepower has limited the ability of the Police to protect New Zealanders. Policing is only successful when the communities being protected agree that the Police hold the moral high ground. Firearms are a barrier between officers and their communities. They are a distraction for officers. And they are a symbol that the Police do not believe in their moral authority. There is clear evidence that arming police increases crime, and results in increased violence by police against the public.
Furthermore, the Council notes that statistics continue to show that Police disproportionately use violence against both Māori and poorer communities. The Mental Health Foundation strongly opposes the introduction of armed police to Aotearoa New Zealand due to concerns that guns will disproportionately be used against individuals experiencing mental health crises. Police officers attended around 43,000 mental health callouts last year. They are frequently in contact with vulnerable and distressed members of society. Health services rely on Police to respond to people in the community in crisis, but police receive inadequate training and support to do so safely. The potential introduction of guns to these interactions can only decrease the safety and likelihood of a good outcome for both those who are mentally unwell and for police themselves. The increase in violent police behaviour inherent in the Armed Responders trial will fall predominantly on these already marginalised communities.
Finally, the Council disagrees that the arming of police is always an operational decision. Individual cases are operational, while the general level of arming of the Police is political. Arming of police should be addressed on a political level by the Minister and Parliament as representatives of the people. The decision should not be left up to the New Zealand Police to decide themselves.
The Council urges the Chief Commissioner to reject these Armed Response teams and to reject the increasing arming of our police. Our police should reclaim the previous practise of leaving firearms locked away until there is reason to believe that they are required.