As U.S. Debates 'Defund the Police,' New Zealand Scraps Armed Units After Public Outcry

New Zealand scrapped a proposal for armed police units to be at the forefront of law enforcement following vehement public pushback against a controversial trial.

As protests continue around the world over police brutality, a movement that began in the U.S., New Zealand's police commissioner announced that it would end plans to introduce Armed Response Teams (ARTs).

The idea was trialed for six months in the wake of the Christchurch shootings, in which 51 worshippers at two mosques were killed by Australian terrorist Brenton Tarrant.

The trial was aimed at providing specialist police to deploy to high-risk incidents in addition to the Armed Offenders Squad, which is a group of specially-trained officers who attend critical events.

But the trial faced criticism from the start with accusations that it unfairly impacted people from the Maori and Pacific Island communities, and that there was not proper consultation.

The scheme was run in the Counties-Manukau and Waikato regions in the North Island, and in the Canterbury region in the South Island, but data showed that a large proportion of ART callouts were for minor incidents, such as traffic violations.

Police Commissioner Andrew Coster said in a statement following public feedback: "It has become clear during the course of the trial that armed response teams do not align with the style of policing that New Zealanders expect.

"We have listened carefully to that feedback and I have made the decision these teams will not be a part of our policing model in the future. As part of this, I want to reiterate that I am committed to New Zealand Police remaining a generally unarmed police service."

Coster said that no shots were fired in any of the 8,000 incidents the ARTS were called to and only 200 were firearms incidents. But the trial was beset with problems, with information that was supposed to be logged missing in five out of every six callouts, Radio New Zealand reported.

The discourse around the relationship between the police and those it serves has been as heated in New Zealand as in many other parts of the world.

Tens of thousands of people came out in central Auckland, the country's biggest city, in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, after the death of George Floyd.

The New Zealand decision comes as the U.S. debates protesters' calls to defund the police, a suggestion rejected by President Donald Trump.

New Zealand Police Association President Chris Cahill said the scheme was flawed from the start because its aim was not made clear.

"What was unveiled to New Zealanders were vehicles that looked pretty sinister in comparison to the police vehicles we are familiar with, despite the fact that those everyday police patrol cars have Glock pistols and Bushmaster rifles in them for officers to use when needed," Cahill said, according to Newshub.

He also criticized the move by the Green Party to invoke the death of George Floyd as a reason not to arm officers.

"To use the death of Mr. Floyd as a conduit to make claims about New Zealand police discrimination... is offensive to officers who work in some of the most difficult, violent and fractured communities in our country," Cahill said.

Greens co-leader Marama Davidson said scrapping plans to arm police units was "something to celebrate".

"We commend the New Zealand police for listening to the public outcry during and after the ART trials. They have listened to the community, and made the right call," Davidson said, RNZ reported.

Armed NZ police officers
Armed New Zealand police officers are pictured in front of Christchurch High Court. After a six-month trial, plans to arm New Zealand have been dropped. Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images

Newsweek has contacted the New Zealand government for comment.