A TRIAL of Armed Response Teams being rolled out by the New Zealand Police in coming months is unlikely to affect the Eastern Bay.
Police commissioner Mike Bush announced the trial last week, which aims to complement the initial response to critical or high-risk incidents, citing the Christchurch shooting as a crucial time when a resource such as the ARTs could have been utilised.
ARTs are specialist police personnel who are part of the Armed Offenders Squad (AOS).
Mr Bush said the AOS was normally on call 24/7, but for the trial they would be routinely armed, equipped, mobile and ready to support at the frontline with any events or incidents that required enhanced tactical capabilities.
In the Eastern Bay, existing AOS squads from Rotorua and Tauranga assist in times of need, for example when Aston Hooper was shot after robbing the Kawerau First Credit Union while armed with a gun.
Senior Sergeant Al Fenwick cites this as an incident where resources such as the new ARTs may have been used locally but questions whether the teams are necessary for Whakatane given the rarity of such occurrences.
In Opotiki earlier this year, the AOS was called to assist following a drive-by shooting.
“In a perfect world it would be good to have that extra capability, but it’s not really warranted here for the one or two jobs a year that may require it,” said Mr Fenwick.
“Is that a great use of police resources, having four cops driving around in a car for the other 364 days of the year waiting for something to happen?”
Mr Fenwick said the ARTs would provide a great service to the public, but the Eastern Bay did not experience enough high-end offending to warrant them and was “still a pretty safe place to live”.
“For the most part so we don’t have a lot of bad guys running around shooting people so if we can keep it that way for as long as we can, the better for us.
“It’s always good to think we may have an extra resource like that here but I think we deal with things quite well here at a local level.”
He said the level of training here was different to larger stations around the country with firearms training more common for Eastern Bay officers than for their counterparts in larger centres.
“All of our staff here are trained in firearms. In the bigger stations you’ll only have a limited amount of tier one responders, whereas because we’re a smaller area all our staff are trained at a higher level so when something does happen, we have a lot of staff that can respond.”
He said response cars carried firearms and staff were very good at dealing with armed incidents.