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NZ Police Association rejects Green Party’s ART/George Floyd claims

President of the New Zealand Police Association, Chris Cahill, is appalled at the Green Party’s conflation of the trial of armed police teams (ARTs) in New Zealand, with the death of African American man George Floyd while in the custody of Minneapolis police.

Green co-leader Marama Davidson and Justice spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman have written to the Police Commissioner Andrew Coster to remind him that Mr Floyd’s death has sparked "worldwide protests with fear and anger about the use of force and discrimination in policing" in the US and elsewhere.

"On the basis of this they have then urged the commissioner to halt any increase in the use of firearms by police in New Zealand, including any roll-out of ARTs which are currently being evaluated after a six month trial," Mr Cahill says.

"To use the death of Mr Floyd as a conduit to make claims about New Zealand police "discrimination that results in increased police brutality and death" among communities in Aotearoa is offensive to officers who work in some of the most difficult, violent and fractured communities in our country," he says.

"On behalf of the association’s thousands of members I object to this overt inference that they are to be held up as the problem.

"There is no denying that Māori are over-represented in most of the negative statistics in everyday life in New Zealand - in the prison population, in poor health and education outcomes, in mental health trauma and other socio-economic data. There is also no denying there have been, and probably still are cases of institutional bias within police but there is considerable ongoing work to address this."

Mr Cahill says an extremely important element in this debate is simply ignored by the Green MPs - the proliferation of illegal weapons throughout many communities in Aotearoa.

The association has been telling New Zealanders for years that these weapons are a serious risk to communities. They are found in homes, in vehicles, used in robberies and gang warfare, and they are presented and fired at police officers many more times than most New Zealanders would imagine.

In 2019 police officers were attacked by someone wielding a gun 13 times and the number of serious incidents across the country where police officers are threatened or shot at, is at an all-time high.

"It is only by good luck that we have not lost several police officers at the hands of gun-wielding criminals in the last three years," Mr Cahill says.

The association’s concerns are supported by data recently obtained by RNZ showing that in 2019 an offender was found with a gun on 3540 occasions, there was an almost 50 per cent increase in firearms seized by police in the last five years (excluding the gun buyback) and, in the past two years, there were eight fatal civilian-on-civilian shootings in Counties Manukau alone - one of the communities the Green MPs claim would be negatively impacted on by ARTs.

"The fact is these communities are the most victimised by gun violence and deserve the best protection from police who do not, as the Green MPs have insinuated, patrol communities with the intention of harming them," Mr Cahill says.

"Police are called to hundreds of thousands of incidents across our country every year with the sole aim of keeping New Zealanders, irrespective of colour, safe from harm, and increasingly that includes harm from weapons," he says.

"Taking firearms away from police will not solve this problem. The RNZ data referred to above shows that in 2019 officers faced more than 3500 firearms incidents but presented firearms only 305 times - a 33 per cent drop compared to 2016.

The trial of the ARTs is a response to this background of the use of illegal weapons, and Mr Cahill says while Police was remiss in failing to consult adequately on the ARTs, the success or otherwise of the trial is yet to be established.

"What we do know is no ART officer fired a shot during the trial and they dealt safely and quickly with hundreds of incidents. ARTs may not be the complete answer but there is certainly value in having highly trained officers more readily available to attend dangerous situations."

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