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Talking tactics on frontline safety

The Police response to improving frontline safety launched last month is a step in the right direction

A pledge to improve frontline safety through increased training and specialist staff, and a hefty $45 million financial investment, are linchpins of the new Tactical Response Model (TRM) announced by Police late last month.

Over the coming year, the new policy, which is being viewed by some as a halfway house between the status quo and general arming, will be bedded in, accompanied by the mantra “better trained, better supported, better informed”.

Over the past year, as part of Police’s Frontline Safety Improvement Programme, through 85 workshops, 1250 staff provided feedback that Police says helped formulate the upgraded approach to safety.

Tactically trained staff will be deployed as members of Tactical Prevention Teams (TPTs) and double-crewed dog section teams.

The TPTs will primarily work on planned operations such as executing search warrants and arresting high-risk offenders as well as being “available to swiftly deploy” to high-risk incidents.

The Police Association has given qualified praise to the initiatives unveiled by the Commissioner, with president Chris Cahill acknowledging a “comprehensive and well-researched response” to problems that the association has been highlighting for many years.

This attempt to address concerns about frontline safety was conceived in response to the death of Constable Matthew Hunt during a traffic stop in 2020 and the abandonment of the trial of armed response teams (ARTs).

One member has described the TPTs as “ARTs in disguise”. The differences are relatively subtle but significant. The more highly trained TPTs will wear standard uniforms, won’t have their own marked vehicles and will not be routinely armed.

The increase in tactical training – from 3.5 days to 7.5 days – is one of the most welcome parts of the initiative from the perspective of frontline police, but with caveats.

One member notes: “The crux of the [Frontline Skills Enhancement] course is focused on being ‘pre-armed’ for any given incident/scenario, and not having to arm urgently and rapidly when confronted by a serious threat. What training will there be for counter-ambush tactics and response when unarmed? What weapon retention training will there be for those occasions when staff are armed but need to, or are forced to, go hands-on?”

The extra tactically deployed staff are welcome, but questions have been raised over how effective the TPTs can be when dealing with 3Ts (traffic stops) – as one member comments, “One of the most dangerous things we do in our job. We can’t pre-empt whether they will have firearms in the car even with more intel.”

Another officer offers this scenario. “As a frontline member, having identified that I ‘swiftly’ need a higher level of support and/or access to specialist capability at my remote 3T or 4Q location, I then need to request a response from the DCC, probably explain the situation, await their assessment and response and for them to dispatch a TPT to my location. If one is available. At best, I should expect a 25-30 minute delay before they arrive.”

Another member puts it more bluntly: “The TPTs are really only responding to firearms events after the cop has been shot – doesn’t stop the cop from being killed in the first place.”

He says police rarely get shot at pre-planned warrants where armed dog units and tactical units are already in attendance.

“If you look at the terrorist event at the Auckland supermarket, the only thing that prevented people from being killed was having armed cops on the scene who were able to respond immediately.”

For a policy designed to address frontline concerns about the proliferation and use of illegal firearms, there was surprisingly little mention of firearms in the information released by Police.

Police is putting its faith in the upgraded training and the addition of 28 intelligence positions able to provide more timely and relevant information to the frontline.

The new initiatives will be piloted in selected districts over coming months before the scheme is rolled out nationally from the middle of next year.

Additional district training days will start within a year, initially for PST and road policing staff and then to other Level 1 responders.

A total of 780 staff have already been trained through the Frontline Skills Enhancement Course. Police says this will increase to 2000 by July 2022.

More than 200 staff will be given advanced tactical training to AOS-qualified standards.

Police says staffing for the new positions will be managed through “repurposing and recruiting additional positions”. Recruitment will start this year.

The proposed solutions have, inevitably, been questioned by some officers, not least the claim that the TPTs will have “immediate access” to firearms. How that will work has yet to be revealed.

Other issues include:

  • What is it that makes the way New Zealand police engage with the public “unique” – as the Commissioner often says – compared with the other 19 countries that don’t have routinely armed police?
  • What will the criteria be for approving or failing the trial model?

Members also wanted to see the research cited on the risks and benefits of general arming internationally. Late last month Police posted that data on its internal bully board (under "research and insights general arming").

Commissioner Andrew Coster remains firm that general arming is off the table and has expressed confidence that these changes will lead to “a significant improvement in safety for our frontline”.

The association has applauded the recognition from Police that the status quo for police officers is no longer acceptable. President Chris Cahill says that although the plan falls short of the overwhelming call from members for general arming, it is a significant initiative that warrants buy-in from members and the public.

“It also points to the value of double-crewing as a policy – an area the association would like further research on to understand its value.”

Meanwhile, one request from the frontline has finally come to fruition with the rollout last month of the long-awaited Police caps, starting in Eastern and Tasman Districts, modelled here by Senior Constable Jason Rangi and Constable Kelsey Brough, both from Tasman. The rollout of one cap per person is due to be completed by March 2022.

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