Arm the Police?: Critical Analysis of Potential Militarization of New Zealand's Law Enforcement

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This proposal precedes an essay that would further critically analyze the potential impacts law enforcement militarization in New Zealand may have on public relations between officers and the populace. This essay will not discuss comparisons between the policing work environment and that of other ‘frontline’ occupations, nor will it discuss the potential for the armed police themselves becoming victims of their own weapons (either in response to critical situations or potential suicides). The essay will not discuss issues regarding the judicial system, including court and prisons systems. The information presented will be informed by the Armed Response Team Trial Evaluation Report, articles from the New Zealand Centre for Political Research, and excerpts from the textbook ‘Do Police Need Guns?: Policing and Firearms: Past, Present and Future’ (Evans, Farmer. 2020) among other sources.

Internationally, police have become increasingly equipped with more effective military technology and a fundamental aspect of this militarization is the widespread adoption of firearms (Kraska, 2007). Militarization poses potential risks toward police legitimacy. Police legitimacy describes the communal acceptance of police authority and it is considered vital to law enforcement efficacy (Tyler and Wakslak, 2004). An essential component to that police legitimacy is the police’s ability to enforce the law efficiently and effectively (Bayley, 2002). However, this need for efficiency is mirrored by the need for the faith a community may have that their police will exercise their state granted power within the limits of the communities’ laws and standards (Worrall, 1999). A police force militarized and empowered by the state can exercise potentially lethal force, and this is rightfully concerning to the very communities they have sworn to protect.

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On the 30th of August 2019, the New Zealand Police’s Executive Leadership Board (ELB) approved a trial of Armed Response Teams (ARTs) across counties Manakau, Waikato, and Canterbury. An initiative designed to improve actual safety as well as feelings of safety among both the police and the public (NZ Police, 2020). ARTs were a group of specialist Armed Offenders Squad (AOS) personnel that were ready to respond to events where significant risk was posed toward the public or police. The trial ran for a period of 6 months, beginning in October 2019 and concluding in April 2020 (NZ Police, 2020). The demand for highly trained specialists to respond both quickly and effectively to events that pose critical threats to public safety was posed in response to the Christchurch mosque attacks of 2019, as it was believed that despite the low frequency of such events, it was vital that the police remained able to respond to potentially critical incidents (NZ Police, 2020).

Additionally, the conditions faced by frontline staff have also evolved, particularly around encountering firearms (Evans and Farmer, 2020). New Zealand is one of 19 countries globally and one of four in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) that do not maintain a constabulary equipped with firearms (Godin, 2020). Nevertheless, the concept of arming frontline officers has remained controversial (Waldren, 2007; Newman, 2010) here. Despite the widespread and international discourse surrounding the issue, there is a frustrating lack of empirical evidence and research that evaluates the effect arming the police may have on public relations (NZ Police, 2020).

This absence of evidence is disproportionate to the shear import of the issue as the capability of the police to reduce real or perceived threats is critical to not only maintaining trust and legitimacy between the police and the communities they protect (Jackson, Bradford, Hough, and Murray, 2012), but also paramount to preservation of police safety in their line of work (Evans and Farmer, 2020). However, the ART trial in New Zealand highlighted significant grievances both within the police force itself (NZ Police, 2020) and the public (Cook and Russell, 2019) with the notion of routine armament. This means the development of a solution moving forward is difficult as the polices’ ability to act efficiently and effectively is principal to their ability to convey trust within the public. Yet by increasing their tactical effectiveness, there is a risk of public outcry and a breakdown of that public trust. The conclusion of the highly publicized ART trial in New Zealand preceded the death of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer in USA. An event that domestically galvanized anxieties within the New Zealand community regarding the operations of the police. Quickly following, in June 2020, unarmed New Zealand Constable Matthew Hunt was shot and killed while on duty (Leask, 2020). Despite being unrelated, the social upheaval these two events created, coupled with the wider societal and governmental fears stemming from the Christchurch terror attacks strongly demonstrate the complexity of the issue at hand.

When discussing the potential issues in the police relationship with the public it is impossible to do so without mentioning the international emotional concern raised after George Floyd’s killing. The event acted as a catalyst for already strained public law enforcement perceptions, and with the modern rise of international new wave social justice not only are the tactical requirements faced by police evolving, but so are their relations with the public they protect (Evans and Farmer, 2020). One of the potential major concerns is for the police’s ability to enact Robert Peel’s ‘policing by consent’ principles (Jackson et al, 2012). The term summarizes the ideas of Sir Robert Peel that defined an ethical police force. Arguably most importantly that the law enforcement power of the police came from the consent of the public to have their law enforced, as opposed to from the power of the state (Bradford, 2014). Police armament potentially poses a threat to these principles that play a core role in the philosophy that governs law enforcement agencies across the globe including New Zealand (Shaap, 2020).

One cannot critically analyze the armament of the New Zealand police without discussing the very real concerns within the international and domestic public for police militarization and its links to authoritarianism (Rashed, 2017). There are great concerns internationally that in a world rife with social injustice, the idea of violence has transformed into a solution for social concerns (Giroux, 2015). This presents a sickening parity toward the authoritarian and totalitarian governments so ripely criticized in mainstream media. In America, a country New Zealand largely attempts to emulate, this ‘blurring’ of the metaphorical lines has already occurred (Giroux, 2015) and there is great concern that the potential arming of the New Zealand police accompanies an unwanted ‘Americanization’.

This proposal evidences the need for a critical evaluation of the potential impacts law enforcement militarization in New Zealand may have on public relations. The essay aimed to analyze specific topics that propagate discourse within the notion of police militarization in New Zealand. Doing so through the analysis of empirical information from educated and respected sources.

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Arm the Police?: Critical Analysis of Potential Militarization of New Zealand’s Law Enforcement. (2022, December 15). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 16, 2024, from
“Arm the Police?: Critical Analysis of Potential Militarization of New Zealand’s Law Enforcement.” Edubirdie, 15 Dec. 2022,
Arm the Police?: Critical Analysis of Potential Militarization of New Zealand’s Law Enforcement. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 16 Jun. 2024].
Arm the Police?: Critical Analysis of Potential Militarization of New Zealand’s Law Enforcement [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Dec 15 [cited 2024 Jun 16]. Available from:

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