Hamilton, June 13, 2023
Use of force by New Zealand Police remains low, despite an increasingly challenging environment and an increased tendency for violence towards Police officers.
The Environment and Response Annual Report 2021, released today, replaces the previously publicly available Annual Tactical Options Report (TOR), by combining it with the Annual Gun Safe Report and the Environmental Risk Scan.
It aims to provide a picture of what officers are facing on the front line and the tactics officers are employing in the course of their work. Tactical options include everything from empty-hand tactics to using a firearm, to OC spray (pepper spray) and allow officers to bring about resolutions to situations with the least amount of harm.
One of the report’s key findings is that, while there was a small increase in the use of force events in 2021, it continues to be extremely rare. Just 0.23% of events attended by Police in 2021 resulted in the use of tactical options.
“This is a very small portion of the work our people do to serve their communities every day,” said Mike Johnson, Assistant Commissioner, Frontline Capability.
He said, “Our staff are trained to use the least amount of force necessary to bring the conflict to its safe resolution, which by and large is done using solid communication, without the need for use of force.”
TASERs continue to work as a de-escalation tool in situations where people present a risk of harm to themselves or others. A majority of TASER deployments (amounting to 80% of instances) only involve the presentation of the device.
Concerningly, however, there are increases in risk for frontline staff. There has been an increase in the use of vehicles as weapons against Police and more staff who were injured needed hospital-level treatment in 2021, compared with the previous three years.
Assistant Commissioner Johnson said, “Any assault on Police is unacceptable but it is particularly concerning there was an increase in officers needing hospital-level treatment. This indicates people are more willing to use serious violence against our officers. The safety of our people is our priority.”
Dangers to staff
The Police are acutely aware of the dangers their staff face every day and they have a strong focus on ensuring all the staff can get home safely from their shifts.
Assistant Commissioner Johnson said, “The environment our staff are facing is ever-evolving and we need to ensure we are continuously improving our response, by updating our processes, tactical resources, and practice to keep our people and communities safe. The nationwide rollout of the Tactical Response Model (TRM) is one way we are doing this.”
“It includes ongoing tactical training for frontline staff, risk-based intelligence-led deployment and enhanced tactical capability. The safety system is designed to ensure frontline staff are trained, equipped, and supported to keep themselves and communities safer.”
The nationwide rollout of the highly successful TRM is currently underway after a trial in 2022. It was created as part of the Frontline Safety Improvement Programme following the death of Constable Matthew Hunt during a traffic stop in Massey in June 2020.
Meanwhile, Gun Safe was created in 2019 to bring more context and detail to the incidents where Police staff encounter firearms.
While data shows an upward trend in firearms occurrences and offences over time, the rate of offences per 100 frontline staff has remained static, with staff numbers gradually increasing over the last seven years. In 2021 itself, there was a slight decrease in the number of both firearms occurrences and offences compared to 2020.
However, there was an increase in firearms presentations against Police, although the report finds this is possibly an anomaly since provisional 2022 data indicates a return to previous lower levels.
The number of firearms discharges at the police has not increased.
Maori representation high
In 2021, Māori accounted for over half of all TOR events and over half of all offences of assaulting Police. Assistant Commissioner Johnson said that the Police are committed to improving outcomes for Māori.
“Unfortunately, Māori are over-represented in the criminal justice system as both offenders and victims – sadly this is also reflected in the tactical options reporting each year. As an organisation, we have strengthened our commitment to Māori, Te Tiriti o Waitangi, and iwi Māori relationships, through the development of the Te Huringa o Te Tai strategy.”
“This strategy was developed in partnership with iwi Māori to address our joint concerns and reduce victimisation, offending, road fatalities and injuries among Māori. We work alongside iwi and other partners – both in government and in our communities – to ensure individuals and whānau can access the support they need to prevent both offending and victimisation.”
Praneeta Mahajan is an Indian Newslink reporter based in Hamilton.