Special police vehicles carrying trained armed officers will routinely patrol Auckland, Waikato and Canterbury in a police trial that hopes to cut down response times to serious incidents involving firearms.

Police Commissioner Mike Bush is expected to make the announcement in Counties Manukau this morning.

Police have had growing concerns about the increasing number of incidents that police respond to that involve firearms, and that is understood to have contributed to the decision to trial armed response vehicles.

A source confirmed to the Herald that the trial will be in Counties Manukau, Waikato and Canterbury.

The vehicles will be manned by armed offenders squad (AOS) members who would be ready to attend major incidents at any time if needed.

It is understood to be similar to what has been rolled out in the UK, where armed response vehicles have been adapted to accommodate specialist equipment.

There are currently 17 armed offenders squads made up of nearly 300 part-time members who are specially trained to respond to incidents involving firearms.

But they are police officers with general duties who operate on a call-out basis, meaning they have to return to the station, suit up, and then head out to an incident.

Police also have the Special Tactics Group, who are full-time and respond to “high-end tactical incidents” beyond the capabilities of the AOS.

The trial is hoped to see a reduction in response times to serious incidents that involve firearms, as armed response teams will be on patrol, already suited up, and can head directly to call-outs.

They will also be able to more quickly help with higher-risk situations, such as warrants for dangerous suspects or drug raids.

But the trial is also likely to spark debate about whether it might lead to an increased presence of armed police, and how that could impact overall community safety.

Police have for some time voiced concerns about the increasing presence in firearms-related incidents, though have so far declined to have officers generally armed.

The Police Association is likely to support the trial as an improvement on the status quo, though it has been calling for the general arming of police since 2009.

A survey of association members in 2017 found that one in eight officers reported being threatened by a firearm once or more in the last year, a 38 per cent increase on the 2015 survey results.

On the front line, the 2017 figure jumps to 21 per cent threatened at least once in the last year.

New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush is expected to announce a trial to use the armed response vehicles. Photo / Jason Oxenham.
New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush is expected to announce a trial to use the armed response vehicles. Photo / Jason Oxenham.

Police Minister Stuart Nash, who declined to be interviewed for this article, has previously said that police turn up to 200 incidents every month where a firearm is involved, and between 800 and 1000 firearms are reported stolen each year.

He told media at the Police Association annual conference this week that police in general had access to firearms when needed.

“Nearly every single car has a lock box with a Glock, you’ve got the a Bushmaster in the boot, and we’ve obviously got our armed offenders squad.

“So police have access to weapons as and when required.”

He said he did not support the general arming of police, but that was a call for the Police Commissioner.

“My personal view is I’d be uncomfortable with general arming, but it’s actually a call that the Commissioner has to make.”

Bush said in a statement: “NZ Police has no plans to become a routinely armed police service.”

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