Tuesday, June 09, 2020

A victory for public safety

The Police have today announced that "Armed Response Teams" - gangs of heavily-armed police cruising Māori-Pacifica neighbourhoods in juiced-up gun-trucks looking for people to shoot - will not be part of policing in New Zealand. Good riddance. Their "trial" was a bad joke, and really just an excuse to intimidate the public with gun-toting cops (who mostly did traffic stops). But the change in Commissioner has led to a change in policy, with Andrew Coster recognising that policing in New Zealand happens by consent, and waving guns around erodes that consent.

But while this is good news, the fact that this "trial" was even run was appalling, as is the fact that the politicians meant to be supervising the police let them pass it off as an "operational matter". There needs to be accountability for that. And the police still have pistols and assault rifles in every car, with few limits on their use. That needs to change. As for how, Parliament can and should legislate to restrict the ordinary use of firearms to designated specialist units, and implement safeguards and oversight of their use by other officers, including Ministerial signoff and Parliamentary veto for any temporary general arming of the sort we had in the aftermath (rather than immediate response to) the Christchurch Mosque attack (thanks to Graeme Edgeler for the details beyond the first bit of this). And they should implement better oversight of "non-lethal" weapons such as tasers and pepper-spray, to require regular pro-active publication of information on how they are used, and mandatory use-of-force reviews of officers who use them (or any other form of force) too often, with an eye to sacking or desking officers who cannot be trusted. Because as we're seeing from the regular IPCA reports, police are increasingly abusing force. As they are incapable of holding one another to account, Parliament needs to.