Open letter to the Police Commissioner

April 1, 2020

Police Commissioner Mike Bush, tēnā koe, Mālō e lelei and warm Pacific greetings,

We want our communities to be connected; where we support people doing it tough, seek to de-escalate and ease stress, and where we lift up one another with care and compassion. We also want all Police work to support and uphold this vision for our communities.

Commonsense and innovative approaches to policing, including community consultation and collaboration, will give all of us the best opportunities to live in safe and thriving neighbourhoods. We are calling for no further extensions to the Police Armed Response Team pilot, and a commitment to community-based approaches to policing from the New Zealand Police.

We share the Government’s and the New Zealand Police’s desire to improve the safety of our communities for all our people. However, we believe that the Police Armed Response Teams currently being piloted in Counties Manukau, Waikato and Canterbury are an unnecessary escalation of police armament which exacerbates the risk of harm faced by many people in our communities. The affected communities were not consulted on the use of Armed Response Teams or the implementation of this trial, and many people within Aotearoa now feel shocked and scared about having Armed Response Teams operating around our country.

We do not accept that the introduction of more firearms into our communities will make us safer, with the increased risks this poses to the lives of our whānau, friends and neighbours during interactions with police. To date, Police have failed to demonstrate that the Armed Response Team trial is grounded in an evidence-informed approach to improving the safety of New Zealand communities.

In announcing the Armed Response Team pilot, Police made reference to the March 15 terrorist attacks on Christchurch mosques, claiming that the “operating environment has changed”. In our view, citing this tragedy as the reason for implementing the trials exploits the shock and fear following those attacks, and distracts us from efforts to build greater social cohesion. The almost immediate expansion of the Armed Response Team mandate to include “preventative patrolling” shows us that these teams were never intended just as a precaution in case of high-risk situations.

Any increased arming of police lays the foundation for more hostile interactions between New Zealanders and police. If we allow this to continue, we will see an escalation of hostile interactions, which will put police and community members at greater risk of harm including death.

The militarisation of police following terrorist activity has disproportionate impacts on communities of colour and minority groups around the world, including in Aotearoa. As you yourself have acknowledged, there is strong evidence of “unconscious bias” against Māori and people of colour within the New Zealand Police. In 2018, Māori were involved in over half of all events where police deploy ‘tactical options’, including dogs, TASERs, firearms, and pepper spray, despite only making up 16.5% of the population. Evidence suggests that police are more likely to use these options against Māori and Pacific peoples, compared to Pākehā, and the presence of Armed Response Teams will increase the risk of further disproportionate injury and trauma for those groups. 

People experiencing mental health crises are also at increased risk from Armed Response Teams. For example, in 2018 ‘tactical options’ were employed by New Zealand police in nearly 200 incidents involving ‘suicide attempts’, and of these over 40% involved the use of tasers or firearms.  Similarly, neurodiverse people, disabled people, and Deaf people are also at increased risk of Police violence, when their characteristic behaviours or movements are misinterpreted as non-compliance or aggression. Young people will also be put at substantial increased risk from Armed Response Team interactions. Neuroscience tells us that young people are still developing reasoning capabilities until their mid-20’s, and are consequently less well equipped at regulating crisis responses.

While the Armed Response Team trial has created a lot of fear and concern for communities across Aotearoa, Police now have an opportunity to open a genuine conversation with the public, not only about arms but the wider relationship between officers and the communities they serve.

We know that people enter the police force because they want to help - because they are committed to serving our communities and keeping us safe. Policing is often a response to people who have been pushed into crisis by the erosion of support systems. But systemic problems will only ever be solved by systemic solutions, that are driven by communities, working in collaboration with government, including police. 

We are calling on you to stop the Armed Response Team pilot immediately, and to halt the increased arming of police in Aotearoa.

Our requests of the Police:

The undersigned seek a commitment from the New Zealand Police to:

  1. Acknowledge the voices of the affected communities expressed in the petition received 4th of December 2019
  2. Immediately end the Police Armed Response Team pilot and not pursue any further initiatives to arm Police without comprehensive public consultation. 
  1. Commence a process to consult communities on what changes are required to make them feel safer and to democratise the policing of communities, with a particular focus on engagement with tangata whenua, Pasifika peoples, targeted communities, those with lived experience and those advocating alongside people with mental illness, disabilities, neurodiversity and young people.
  2. Amend existing Police policies and practices to emphasise de-escalation, including implementing de-escalation training and appropriate weapon handling training.
  3. Increase transparency around current Police policies and practices and how these are developed and implemented



Child Poverty Action Group

Amnesty International New Zealand

UNICEF New Zealand

Wesley Community Action

Imagine Better

Inside Out

Islamic Women's Council of New Zealand

Inclusive Aotearoa Collective Tāhono

Children’s Rights Alliance Aotearoa New Zealand

BGI (Wellington Boys and Girls Institute)

People Against Prisons Aotearoa

New Zealand Council for Civil Liberties

Khadija Leadership Network Trust

Let's Deal With It Campaign

Ou Matou Reo

Shakti Community Council Inc

The Human Rights Lawyers Association Aotearoa NZ

Sir Kim Workman

Dame Diana Crossan

Chester Burrows, Chair of Safe and Effective Justice Advisory Group

Dr Hera Cook, Senior Lecturer, Department of Public Health

Professor Chris Marshall, Diana Unwin Chair in Restorative Justice at Victoria University

Associate Professor Khylee Quince, Auckland University of Technology

Reverend Ian Faulkner, Methodist Minister, Auckland Central Parish

Reverend Tevita Taufalele, Methodist Minister, Auckland Central Parish

Reverend Chris Sullivan 

Reverend Emily Worman

Anya Satyanand

Huia Hanlen

Pakeeza Rasheed

Richie Hardcore

Aarif Rasheed, Director of Just Community

Victoria University Criminology Department:

Professor Simon Mackenzie

Professor Elizabeth Stanley

Dr Sarah Monod de Froideville

Associate Professor Fiona Hutton

Dr Russil Durant

Dr Trevor Bradley

Dr Lynzi Armstrong

Professor Jan Jordan

Dr Samantha Keene

Dr Liam Martin

Professor John Pratt

Dr Sara Salman