NZ cops trial armed patrols after mosques shooting

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Armed New Zealand police officers guard the Al Noor mosque during Friday prayers in Christchurch in May 2019, just weeks after the March 15 shootings that killed 51 people

New Zealand police announced the introduction of armed patrols Friday in response to the Christchurch mosques massacre in which 51 Muslim worshippers were killed.

The force prides itself on operating largely as an unarmed service, but Commissioner Mike Bush said changes needed to be implemented after the worst mass shooting in modern New Zealand history in March.

"Following the events of March 15 in Christchurch, our operating environment has changed," Bush said.

"The threat level remains at medium and we are continuously reviewing our tools, training, and capabilities we use to provide policing services to ensure we remain fit for purpose."

Officers on regular patrols in New Zealand do not carry firearms but there are Armed Offender Squads (AOS) that can be mobilised when required.

Under the new system being trialled in three regions, including Christchurch, AOS officers will be constantly on patrol in specialised vehicles, allowing for more rapid response times.

"The trial of these new teams will be closely monitored and does not mean that police are moving to routine arming," Police Minister Stuart Nash said.

The two police officers who arrested the alleged mosque shooter were armed at the time, and earlier that day had attended a training session on dealing with armed offenders.

The pair, who have not been publicly identified, received bravery awards from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern this week.

The armed patrols are the latest in a string of reforms Ardern's government has introduced in the wake of the massacre, including tightening gun ownership laws and launching a firearms buyback scheme.

This week Ardern announced the establishment of an investigation team dedicated solely to tackling online extremism, and she has pushed tech giants to do more to tackle the issue.

The alleged Christchurch gunman, Australian Brenton Tarrant, has pleaded not guilty to 51 counts of murder, 40 of attempted murder, and engaging in a terrorist act.

His trial will begin on June 2 next year in Christchurch.