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New Zealand to test 'armed response teams' after Christchurch attacks

By Clyde Hughes
New Zealand Police said the new ART units will enhance and support normal officers in high-risk situations. Photo courtesy New Zealand Police
New Zealand Police said the new ART units will enhance and support normal officers in high-risk situations. Photo courtesy New Zealand Police

Oct. 18 (UPI) -- New Zealand's national police force announced Friday a pilot program to create "armed response teams" that are designed to minimize public threats -- a response to two mosque attacks in Christchurch last spring.

Commissioner Mike Bush said the squads will have "enhanced tactical capabilities" and support regular police units in high-risk conflicts. They will be on 24-hour call for a trial period of six months.

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New Zealand police officers are not armed while on general duty, but store weapons in their vehicles in case of emergency. Because normal officers must seek permission to use the weapons, the new units offer a quicker response in threatening situations, Bush said.

"The [NZP] mission is that New Zealand is the safest country," he added." Following the events of March 15 in Christchurch, our operating environment has changed.

"We are continuously reviewing our tools, training and capabilities we use to provide policing services to ensure we remain fit for purpose."

Australian Brenton Tarrant is accused of killing 51 people in the attacks. He is scheduled for trial in May.

New Zealand has already tightened gun laws and created a firearm buyback program. Officials said New Zealanders turned in 224 banned firearms in July.

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"There is no immediate threat," the department said. "However, we must recognize that the environment has changed and police's capability and resourcing needs to reflect this to ensure New Zealanders feel, and are, safe.

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