Armed Offenders Squad
|Armed Offenders Squad|
|Active||1964 - Present|
|Branch||New Zealand Police|
|Role||Resolution of situations where weapons are used or threatened against the police or the public |
|Size||17 Squads, 270 part-time officers|
|Part of||Under control of the New Zealand Police|
2007 New Zealand anti-terror raids
2009 Napier shootings
|Superintendent Bruce Dunstan|
The Armed Offenders Squad (AOS) is a specialist unit of the New Zealand Police designed to "cordon, contain and appeal to" armed and dangerous offenders. As the name explains, they are called upon when conflict with an armed offender has occurred or is considered imminent.
The AOS draw upon a varied arsenal of weapons and are often seen in heavy body armour. By contrast, most front-line police officers in New Zealand are lightly protected and do not normally carry firearms. The establishment of the AOS is an attempt to retain this situation (lightly armed police officers being the standard) and yet retain the ability to deal with offenders too dangerous for measures like pepper spray or a baton.
The AOS was formally started by New Zealand SAS soldier "Shocker Shaw" and Police Inspector Perry in 1964, in response to the deaths of four police officers in two separate incidents - one in Lower Hutt, Wellington and one in Waitakere, Auckland - that involved firearms.
One of the highest-profile AOS interventions is their action during the Aramoana massacre on 13–14 November 1990, which involved at least 150 police officers. Officers from the Special Tactics Group were also present at the crisis. Sergeant Stewart Guthrie, an NCO in the AOS, was killed in the massacre, although he arrived alone with only a revolver, ahead of the fully equipped team from Dunedin.
On 15 October 2007, members of the New Zealand police, Armed Offenders Squad, and Special Tactics Group conducted several raids across New Zealand in response to the uncovering of alleged paramilitary training camps deep in the Urewera mountain ranges. Roughly 300 police were involved in the raids. Four guns and roughly 230 rounds of ammunition were seized and 17 people were arrested. According to the police the raids were a culmination of more than a year of surveillance that uncovered and monitored the training camps. The warrants were executed under the Summary Proceedings Act, the Terrorism Suppression Act, and the Arms Act. Raids were conducted in Wellington, Christchurch, Taupo and Tauranga. Allegations of New Zealand Police searching a school bus also surfaced.
The Armed Offenders Squad were also involved in a shooting on a motorway in Auckland on 23 January 2009. A squad member accidentally shot and killed innocent teenager Halatau Naitoko as a gunman threatened a truck driver, and Naitoko was caught in the line of fire. A former police inspector called for the squad member who shot Naitoko to be charged while AOS training would be changed to avoid future incidents similar to the Naitoko case.
As of 2012[update], there are 17 squads throughout New Zealand covering all major population centres, with a total strength of around 320 members. The mission of the AOS is to provide police with a means of effectively and safely responding to and resolving situations in which there is a risk of firearms or similarly dangerous weapons being involved, and when weapons are directed against either members of the public, or the police service. The AOS is made up entirely of volunteers, who must have passed a national selection and training course, with further, localised training given on a district level. They are part-time, come from all branches of the New Zealand Police, and operate on a call out basis. According to official figures, AOS units attended 533 incidents nationwide in the year 1998/99.
Members receive additional pay above the regular police wage, in one case around $9,000 per year in 2008.
The AOS is supported by the New Zealand Police Negotiation Teams and canine units specifically trained for use in situations involving firearms. The PNT units are specially trained in psychology and crisis resolution techniques. A great majority of their callouts are to AOS incidents, of which the majority have been resolved peacefully. However, the PNT's may also be called out to several other situations that include, threatened suicides to high-risk hostage situations. Nationwide, there are 17 Police Negotiation Teams, with each AOS having a dedicated team attached to it. Similar to the AOS units themselves, the negotiators are all part-time volunteers. The Police Negotiation Teams responded to a total of 330 incidents in the 1998/99 year.
All AOS members are volunteers drawn from the New Zealand Police. They must complete highly rigorous training, and applications are carefully screened. Women are not precluded from becoming members of squads.
Posting to the AOS is not a full-time duty, and members are officially members of other branches such as the Criminal Investigation Branch (CIB) or general duties. In the event of an incident requiring AOS attendance, the on-duty officers will be paged by the communications centre. They then assemble at their base, to draw arms and get other equipment, before responding to the scene.
In keeping with the weapons available to front-line officers, the AOS are issued with the following equipment:
- Glock 17 pistol
- Bushmaster M4A3 carbine with multiple accessories installed such as Surefire Flashlights, Aimpoint and EOtech scopes, front grips, and slings
- Remington 870 shotgun
- HK 79 grenade launcher
- Accuracy International AW sniper rifle
- Tactical vests
- Ballistic vests
- Kevlar helmets
- Ballistic shields 
- Drop-leg holsters and magazine pouches (optional to the officer)
When responding to incidents, or executing planned operations, AOS officers utilise both standard marked and unmarked cars, and large four-wheel drive vehicles, such as the Nissan Patrol. These are fitted with running boards and roof rails, to allow officers to stand on the side while the vehicle is in motion, as well as having enclosed boxes on the roof for carrying equipment.
Between 1996 and 2009, AOS attended an average of 513 callouts across New Zealand per year. An increase in AOS use for assisting in drug raids and executing search warrants has seen call-outs increase to 992 in 2011 with an average number of 513 AOS operations per year over the previous 14 years.
The busiest AOS squads are Wellington, with 175 callouts in 2011, followed by Auckland and Christchurch, with 127 and 113 respectively the same year.
- Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) - United States
- Special Tactics Group - New Zealand
- South African Police Service Special Task Force
- Specialist Response and Security - Australia
- Tactical Operations Unit - New South Wales
- Territory Response Group - Northern Territory
- Special Emergency Response Team (Queensland)
- Special Tasks and Rescue - South Australia
- Special Operations Group of the Tasmania Police
- Victoria Police Special Operations Group - Victoria, Australia
- Western Australia Police Tactical Response Group
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