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Police in New Zealand are not routinely armed while on general duty.  Handguns and rifles, as well as Tasers and ballistic vests, are securely locked in cabinets within police vehicles and may be accessed following authorization from a supervisor.  In recent years, a project to increase the availability of these tactical options has been implemented, along with enhancements to tactical training for general duty officers.  Specialized Armed Offenders Squads are called out for incidents involving armed individuals and a Special Tactics Group also has particular roles in handling complex situations.  These units have special training and equipment.  Police may also access some military-owned equipment, including Light Armored Vehicles, pursuant to cooperation agreements with the armed forces.

Various statutory and police-issued rules apply to the use of firearms and other force by police.  These emphasize that the least amount of force necessary to achieve a purpose should be used.  Since 1941, twenty-seven people have died as a result of police shootings.  While no shots were fired, controversy arose in relation to the tactics of armed police in carrying out a search warrant operation in October 2007.  There were public protests and investigations, leading to the Commissioner of Police making an apology to the Māori tribe affected in August 2014.

I.  Introduction

New Zealand’s population is currently estimated at around 4.5 million.[1]  A national police force, New Zealand Police (NZ Police), delivers services through twelve districts,[2] and there were 8,782 sworn police officers as of June 30, 2013.[3]  This included around three hundred part-time members of seventeen Armed Offenders Squads (AOS), which have particular roles in responding to situations “involving an actual or threatened use of firearms against members of the public or Police.”[4]  These squads operate on a call-out basis.  In addition, current and former AOS members can apply to become full-time members of the national Special Tactics Group (STG), which has sections based in three cities.  The members of this team “are trained for deployment on high-risk operations such as those involving counterterrorism, tactical roping from helicopters and buildings, maritime incidents, covert surveillance, hostage rescue and complex armed offender situations.”[5]

NZ Police is funded by the central government through annual appropriations.[6]  No reports were found of surplus military equipment being acquired by NZ Police, although access to certain military-owned equipment may be granted through cooperation arrangements.  For example, in 2006, NZ Police stated that it had reached an understanding with the New Zealand Defence Force “over access to the Army’s Light Armoured Vehicles (LAVs) should the need arise.”[7]  The Defence Act 1990 allows the the Prime Minister to authorize any part of the Armed Forces to assist NZ Police if satisfied that a person (or persons) is threatening or attempting to kill or seriously injure another person or attempting to destroy or seriously damage any property, and that NZ Police cannot deal with the emergency without the assistance of the Armed Forces.[8]

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II.  Police Weapons and Equipment

A.  Officers on General Duty

NZ Police officers do not routinely carry firearms on their person while on general duty.[9]  Glock semiautomatic pistols and Bushmaster XM15 M4A3 rifles,[10] as well as ballistic armor,[11] may be carried in police vehicles in locked cabinets.[12]  Firearms are generally accessed by officers following approval of a supervisor with respect to a particular situation.[13]  Public debate about routinely arming general duty officers has arisen at various times as a result of officers being injured or killed while on duty.[14]

Following reviews conducted in the early 2000s regarding less than lethal force options and equipment[15] and training, policy, and practice related to police use of force,[16]  NZ Police commenced a field trial of model X26 Tasers in four districts in 2006.[17]  A positive evaluation of the trial was published in 2008,[18] resulting in Tasers being approved for use in the trial districts.[19]  Since 2010, Tasers have been available throughout the country for use by trained frontline staff.[20]  They are not “carried on the hip as a matter of course.”[21]  As with firearms, they are locked in secure cases in police vehicles.

In April 2011, NZ Police began a project to “increase the access and availability of firearms and TASERs for general duty and road policing staff.”[22]  This involved installing new security safes in vehicles and ensuring that “[t]raining in the use of available tactical options will be commensurate with the increase in their availability.”[23]  Under changes to police tactical training implemented as of July 2014, “approximately 5,700 of Police’s 8,100 district staff will receive training in the M4 rifle, Glock pistol and Taser as Level 1 responders – around 700 more than originally proposed.  Meanwhile, approximately 2,100 district staff will be Level 2 responders, receiving training in the Glock pistol, in addition to their existing training.”[24]

In addition to firearms and Tasers, frontline police may use OC Spray (pepper spray),[25] police dogs,[26] and batons.  Police wear stab-resistant vests[27] and also have access to riot gear, such as helmets, armor, and shields.[28] 

B.  Specialist Groups

In addition to the Bushmaster M4 rifle and Glock handgun referred to above, AOS and STG members also have access to sniper rifles, possibly the Ruger Marksman 7.62.[29]  Other tactical equipment includes OC Spray, Tasers, batons, tear gas, and stun grenades or other distraction devices.  In November 2013, the XM1006 “sponge round” was made available to AOS in certain districts as well as to STG.[30]  Members of these units wear special tactical clothing when deployed, such as ballistic vests, equipment vests, balaclavas, goggles, and helmets.  They also use unmarked four-wheel drive vehicles rather than standard police cars.[31]

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III.  Rules on Use of Police Weapons

Under the Crimes Act 1961, an officer is justified in using

  • “such force as may be necessary” to overcome any force used by a person in resisting the law enforcement process, unless the “sentence, warrant, or process can be executed or the arrest made by reasonable means in a less violent manner”;[32]
  • “such force as may be necessary” to prevent a person escaping in order to avoid arrest, or to prevent the escape or rescue of a person following their arrest, “unless in any such case the escape can be prevented or the recapture effected by reasonable means in a less violent manner”;[33] and
  • “such force as, in the circumstances as he or she believes them to be, it is reasonable to use” in the defense of himself or another.[34]

The Crimes Act 1961 further states that “[e]very one authorised by law to use force is criminally responsible for any excess, according to the nature and quality of the act that constitutes the excess.”[35]

The Police Manual[36] and General Instructions[37] issued by the Commissioner of Police refer to the above provisions and contain principles and policies related to the use of firearms and other weapons by police, as well as outlining the roles of AOS and STG in responding to armed incidents.  In addition, the Tactical Options Framework provides guidance to officers on determining the appropriate tactical option to use.[38]  In terms of firing at an offender,

Police policy provides that potentially lethal force may be used when an offender presents a threat of death or grievous bodily harm.  Officers must give an offender the opportunity to surrender if practicable, and employ less lethal tactical options to effect an arrest or disarm an offender if they are available.  However, if further delay in apprehending the offender would be dangerous or impractical, officers are justified in firing at an offender.[39]

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IV.  Recent Incidents and Controversy

Between 1941 and October 2008, twenty-two people died in New Zealand as a result of police firearm use.[40]  Since then there appear to have been at least eleven shootings by police, five of them fatal.[41]  The most recent statistics regarding the use of tactical options by general duty officers, covering the 2013 calendar year, recorded that a total of 1,053 non-fatal subject injuries were caused by such police actions during the year.[42]  Of these, only two were due to firearm use.  Fifty percent of the injuries resulted from empty hand force, 26% from dogs, 15% from handcuffs, 4% from OC Spray, 2% from batons, and 1% from Tasers.[43]

Although no shots were fired, a particular controversy in relation to armed police arose in October 2007, when members of AOS and STG conducted several raids following a surveillance operation that uncovered what were believed to be military-style training camps in a remote part of the country.  Following the raids, there were allegations that the methods used by armed police in executing multiple search warrants in the Urewera area were unnecessarily intimidating to the communities concerned.  The operation resulted in numerous complaints and public protests.[44] 

In 2013, the Independent Police Conduct Authority issued findings that stated NZ Police had acted “unlawfully, unjustifiably and unreasonably” in relation to some aspects of the raids.[45]  The Human Rights Commission also concluded that “innocent people were exposed to unnecessary trauma and had their human rights negatively impacted.”[46]  In August 2014, the Commissioner of Police made a “historic apology” to the people of Tuhoe (the Māori tribe (Iwi) in the Urewera area) for police actions during the raids, stating that “the situations some community members were placed in, the fear that was experienced; and the harm that caused was unacceptable. . . . We now look to the future and continuing our work at a national and local level to build greater relationships between Police with Tuhoe and Iwi Maori, to ensure that all communities across Aotearoa [New Zealand] have trust and confidence in the New Zealand Police.”[47]

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Kelly Buchanan
Chief, Foreign, Comparative, and
International Law Division I
September 2014


[1] National Population Estimates: At 30 June 2014, Statistics New Zealand (Aug. 14, 2014), http://www.stats.govt.nz/browse_for_stats/population/estimates_and_projections/NationalPopulationEstimates_HOTPAt30Jun14.aspx.

[3] Id. at 103.

[4] Armed Offenders Squads, NZ Police, http://www.police.govt.nz/about-us/structure/teams-units/aos (last visited Aug. 29, 2014).

[5] Staff Recruited for Specialist Team, TenOne (Issue No. 353, Jan. 2012), http://www.tenone.police.govt.nz/ tenone/January12National8.htm.

[6] See Police, New Zealand Government: 2014 Budget, http://www.budget.govt.nz/budget/2014/by/vote/ police.htm (last visited Aug. 29, 2014).

[7][7] Press Release, NZ Police, Police Release Report on Technology for Dealing with Violent Offenders (Aug. 3, 2006), http://www.police.govt.nz/news/release/2559.  Two LAVs and their operatives were provided by the Defence Force during a fifty-one-hour armed stand-off with an individual in May 2009.  Army bomb disposal experts were also present at the scene.  Hospital Hill Siege Unprecedented, TenOne (May 2009), http://www.tenone.police. govt.nz/tenone/May09HospitalHill.htm.

[9] See Howard Broad, Police Routinely Unarmed on My Watch, Police Commissioner’s Blog: Direct Line (June 15, 2009), http://www.police.govt.nz/news/commissioners-blog/police-routinely-unarmed-my-watch.

[10] See Press Release, NZ Police, Replacement Due for Police Rifles (May 19, 2005), http://www.police.govt.nz/ news/release/1923.

[11] See New Police Armour Stronger than a Speeding Bullet, The New Zealand Herald (Dec. 9, 2008), http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10547190.

[12] See Firearms Safes Almost Ready for Trials, TenOne Community Edition (Aug. 2011), http://www.tenone. police.govt.nz/tenone/August11National4.htm.

[13] See General Instruction F060 – Carrying of Firearms by Police, available in Press Release, NZ Police, Use of Firearms by Police (Sept. 27, 2007), http://www.police.govt.nz/news/release/3376.

[14] See, e.g., Press Release, NZ Police, Escalation of Firearms Use Not Supported After Kawhia Assault on Policeman (Jan. 13, 2013), http://www.police.govt.nz/news/release/33999; Howard Broad, The Debate About Arming Police, Police Commissioner’s Blog: Direct Line (July 14, 2010), http://www.police.govt. nz/blog/2010/07/14/debate-about-arming-police/24684.

[15] Press Release, NZ Police, Police Release Report on Technology for Dealing with Violent Offenders (Aug. 3, 2006), http://www.police.govt.nz/news/release/2559.

[16] Press Release, NZ Police, Use of Force Report Explores Options (Dec. 14, 2001), http://www.police.govt. nz/news/release/351.

[17] Press Release, NZ Police, Police to Trial Tasers (Feb. 8, 2006), http://www.police.govt.nz/news/release/2283

[19] Speech, Annette King, Ministerial Statement on the Taser (Aug. 27, 2008), http://www.beehive.govt.nz/ speech/ministerial-statement-taser; Press Release, NZ Police, Taser Decision Finalised (Aug. 28, 2008), http://www.police.govt.nz/news/release/4266; Press Release, NZ Police, Tasers Being Reintroduced to Trial Districts (Dec. 10, 2008), http://www.police.govt.nz/news/release/4572.

[20] Taser Rollout Begins, TenOne Community Edition (Feb. 2009), http://www.tenone.police.govt.nz/ tenone/Feb10Taser.htm; Press Release, Judith Collins, Budget 2009: Judith Collins – $10 million to Complete National Taser Roll Out (May 22, 2009), http://beehive.govt.nz/release/budget-2009-judith-collins-10-million-complete-national-taser-roll-out.

[21] Howard Broad, Tasers a Welcome Option, Police Commissioner’s Blog: Direct Line (Feb. 10, 2010), http://www.police.govt.nz/news/commissioners-blog/tasers-welcome-option.

[22] NZ Police, Briefing to the Incoming Minister 41 (Dec. 2011), http://www.police.govt.nz/sites/default/ files/publications/briefing-to-incoming-minister-february-2012.pdf. See also Steve Plowman, Complex Issues at Heart of Greater Access and Availability of Firearms and Tasers, 44(9) PoliceNews 244 (Oct. 2011), http://www.policeassn.org.nz/system/files/file/PoliceNewsOct%2011.pdf; Clip Holsters Speed Access, TenOne Community Edition (Sept. 2011), www.policeassn.org.nz/system/files/file/PoliceNewsOct%2011.pdf.

[23] Briefing to the Incoming Minister, supra note 22, at 41. 

[24] Press Release, NZ Police, Further Enhancements to Police Integrated Tactical Training (Feb. 17, 2014), http://www.police.govt.nz/news/release/further-enhancements-police-integrated-tactical-training.

[25] See Press Release, NZ Police, Police Extending Trial of “Gel” OC Spray (Mar. 20, 2014), http://www.police.govt. nz/news/release/police-extending-trial-gel-oc-spray.

[26] Police Dog Section, NZ Police, http://www.police.govt.nz/about-us/structure/teams-units/dog-section (last visited Aug. 29, 2014).

[27] Press Release, NZ Police, Police Begin Roll-out of Stab Resistant Body Armour (Dec. 14, 2006), http://www.police.govt.nz/news/release/2780.

[28] See Police Reveal New Riot Gear, Stuff.co.nz (May 27, 2011), http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/crime/ 5062337/Police-reveal-new-riot-gear.

[29] See IPCA, Public Report on the Fatal Shooting of Lee Jane Martin 10 (Apr. 2010), http://www.ipca.govt. nz/includes/download.aspx?ID=108400.

[30] Press Release, NZ Police, New Tactical Option Available to Specialist Groups (Nov. 29, 2013), http://www.police.govt.nz/news/release/new-tactical-option-available-specialist-groups-photos; Sponge Rounds – No Soft Option, TenOne (Issue No. 376, Dec. 2013), http://www.tenone.police.govt.nz/tenone/December13 National4.htm.

[31] See, e.g., Photos: Napier Shooting, The New Zealand Herald (May 7, 2009), http://www.nzherald.co. nz/nz/news/image.cfm?c_id=1&gal_objectid=10635342&gallery_id=105524#6609272.

[33] Id. s 40.

[34] Id. s 48.

[35] Id. s 62.

[36] The Police Manual is not made publicly available in full.  Information about aspects of the Manual that pertain to firearms and other weapons can be found in several IPCA reports.  See, e.g., IPCA, Fatal Police Shooting of Antony Ratahi ¶¶ 226–243 (Aug. 2014), http://ipca.govt.nz/includes/download.aspx?ID=135477; IPCA, Fatal Police Shooting of Lachan Kelly-Tumarae ¶¶ 321–335 (Oct. 2013), http://ipca.govt.nz/includes/ download.aspx?ID=130981.

[37] See Press Release, NZ Police, Use of Firearms by Police (Sept. 27, 2007), http://www.police.govt.nz/news/ release/3376.

[38] The Tactical Options Framework is not made publicly available in full.  Information about aspects of the Framework can be found in several IPCA reports.  See, e.g., IPCA, Police Shooting of David Taite (Summary Report) ¶¶ 42–43 (June 5, 2014), http://ipca.govt.nz/includes/download.aspx?ID=133903

[39] Id. ¶ 58.

[40] Chronology of Fatal Shootings by Police, The New Zealand Herald (Oct. 23, 2008), http://www.nzherald.co. nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10539110.

[41] See Tracey Chatterton, Police Shooting Still Unresolved a Year On, Stuff.co.nz (July 24, 2014), http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/10303209/Police-shooting-still-unresolved-a-year-onSee also IPCA Annual Reports for recent years, at http://ipca.govt.nz/Site/publications/Accountability/default.aspx.

[42] Response and Operations: Research and Evaluation, New Zealand Police Annual TASER Report #2: 1 January to 31 December 2013, at 6 (Table 11). http://www.police.govt.nz/sites/default/files/publications/taser-report-annual-2013.pdf.

[43] Id.

[44] Juliet Rowan, Hundreds Protest Against Terror Raids, The New Zealand Herald (Oct. 19, 2007), http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10470859.

[45] Rebecca Quilliam, Police Acted ‘Unlawfully’ During Urewera Raids, The New Zealand Herald (May 22, 2013), http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10885376; see also Press Release, IPCA, Report into Operation Eight Finds Police Acted Unlawfully (May 22, 2013), http://www.ipca.govt.nz/Site/ media/2013/2013-May-22-Operation-Eight.aspx.

[46] Press Release, Human Rights Commission, Commission Releases Operation Eight Human Rights Analysis (Dec. 19, 2013), http://www.hrc.co.nz/2013/12/19/commission-releases-human-rights-analysis-of-operation-eight/.

[47] Police Return to Ruatoki to Say Sorry, OneNews (Aug. 13, 2014), http://tvnz.co.nz/national-news/police-return-ruatoki-say-sorry-6054239; Tuhoe Apology: Police Commissioner Releases Statement, Te Karere (Aug. 13, 2014), http://tvnz.co.nz/te-karere-news/tuhoe-apology-police-commissioner-releases-statement-6055829.

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Last Updated: 06/09/2015