By 1news.co.nz and is republished with permission.
Police Commissioner Andrew Coster says an alternative to police’s de-escalation approach towards anti-mandate protesters would involve tear gas and batons being deployed on Parliament’s grounds.
Coster told Q+A’s Jack Tame that police were taking its existing de-escalation approach as it believed the alternative of a forceful pushback could not be justified.
“I think police could clear the protest, but I don’t think the harm that would come from how we would need to do that is acceptable relative to the harm that the protest is doing,” he said.
“The balance we have here is keeping the peace and enforcing the law. The tactics need to be appropriate for the safest outcome.”
The Police Commissioner used the Springbok Tour and Bastion Point protests as examples of “low points” in policing history that he was intending to avoid repeating.
“I would note that the situation in the Springbok Tour, for example, led to a long-term loss of trust and confidence in police, because the violence used was so confronting,” he said.
“The situation in front of us could very readily become the same, with the police enforcement and intervention. I want us to explore all reasonable options before we end up there.”
He noted recent protests like the Ihumātao occupation in 2019 were dispelled without violent confrontation.
When asked to describe what a more forceful response could look like, Coster said officers’ reinforcements would lead to “far-reaching consequences”.
“Police would have to move in using batons, probably using tear gas, to clear that crowd off the grounds. It’s likely to lead to extended confrontation and we’ve got a broader picture of protests around the country on the same issue.
“During the Springbok Tour, one of the things was a real hardening of the protest activity based on the law enforcement response to it. So we have to look quite carefully at how to manage that whole picture.”
He said even forcibly dispelling occupiers on the protest’s first day, while tents were being erected, would not have been possible for officers.
“The level of force that we would’ve had to use to achieve success at that time would have been unacceptable to most New Zealanders and would’ve been subject to criticism in terms of its lawfulness.”
He said that the police had reached out to counterparts in Ottawa for advice. The Canadian capital is where the original anti-mandate convoy protests began.
“This protest seems to be most closely modelled on the Canadian one. I would note that while it’s not currently blocking critical infrastructure, it’s different, we’ve got a crowd situation rather than people camping in vehicles.”
Ottawa’s police chief resigned on Wednesday amid criticism that he didn’t do enough to stop the protests happening in the city.