Last year the police announced a trial of Armed Response Teams (ARTs) to support police on the streets. Patrols have been trialed in Counties Manukau, Waikato, and Canterbury over the last six months. These squads comprise groups of police officers armed with guns patrolling the trial communities in SUVs. They were meant to be focused on organised crime that posed significant community risk, according to the Commissioner at the time.
These armed units don’t make communities feel safer. Institutional racism in the police raised fears that the squads would be more likely to target Māori and Pasifika. Just Speak reports research shows that “when first encountering police, Māori who have had no prior contact with the justice system have a greater risk of a police proceeding and are more likely to be charged by Police, than Europeans. When someone is charged they are more likely to end up trapped in the justice system”. Restorative justice coordinator Kainee Simone at the Manukau Urban Māori Authority has expressed concern on Te Ao Māori news that “by imitating American policing New Zealand could end up with the same issues America is now dealing with”.
Police are nearly eight times more likely to use violence against Māori than Pākehā, and three times more likely to use violence against Pasifika people than Pākehā. 66% of the people police have fired guns at in the last 10 years were Māori or Pasifika. And in 2016 research reported young Africans have told AUT researcher Dr Camille Nakhid that police have stopped and abused them on the streets or in cars, for no apparent reason except their colour.
So what happened in the trial? According to NewsHub, documents obtained showed that the trial ‘saw [the units] used most often for traffic stops instead of armed offenders or serious crime’. The data shows armed police were used 339 times for bail checks, 224 times for basic enquiries, 223 times for suspicious activity and 43 times for burglar alarms.
Most of all, on 1406 occasions, armed police were used for turnovers – the force’s code for a simple traffic stop.
They were also sent to callouts in mental health crises. How can armed police help when their presence is likely to cause more fear and trauma? Mental health callouts need expert mental health responses and care, not guns. We don’t want a militarised police force in Aotearoa. The events of the last few days since the death of George Floyd in the US has brought the police abuse of power and brutality into sharp relief. There are clear calls to stop these armed units in Aotearoa. The police have said they want to hear from people as part of the evaluation. Let’s tell them we don’t want ARTs. Act quickly, as they have said the results of the evaluation will be released at the end of June.
Have your say: social workers must speak out about these units. There are a number of ways you can do this. The #ArmsDownNZ hashtag on Twitter is a good source of information and the Arms Down website has more.
From ArmsDownNZ Callin you can access information to help you express your opinion. You can choose to leave feedback with the police directly, or contact your local MP to advocate for your community. A petition is open on Action Station.
Photo credit Justine @kvetchings