AOS callout rate reflects crackdown on gangs

The South’s top police officer says the steady rise in the number of armed offenders squad callouts is largely driven by pre-planned operations aimed at disrupting gang activity.

Figures released last week show armed offenders squad (AOS) callouts increased across all districts since 2017, but in the Southern police district, which encompasses Southland and Otago, there was a 216% increase from 2017 to 2021.

The increase was the largest of any district, the figures show.

Police declined an interview about the figures.

In a statement, southern district commander Superintendent Paul Basham said 2022 had seen several significant operations targeting gang activity in Southern district.

The police focus on disrupting gang-related activities in Operation Cobalt, and prior to that Operation Tauwhiro, had resulted in an increased need for AOS-level capability.

The squads were deployed in support of pre-planned search warrants relating to these operations, due to the higher risk posed to general duties officers executing the warrants.

Additionally, reassurance patrols including AOS personnel were conducted following high-profile violent offending incidents, to provide community reassurance and increase the availability of tactically trained staff to support frontline officers.

Sometimes reassurance patrols ran 24-7, and each patrol was noted as a separate AOS deployment.

In the Southern district, 63% of the AOS deployments in 2022 to date were for pre-planned warrants and reassurance patrols.

"In Aotearoa we have a community-based approach to policing, working with iwi and communities to police by consent. In terms of our tactical approach, we are focused on ensuring that our tactical operators and frontline specialists have the right training, equipment and support to ensure they can appropriately respond to all situations they face," Supt Basham said.

The figures show the national increase in AOS deployments over the five-year period was 64%, while the smallest increase over the five-year period was in Tasman district (13%) and the second-largest was in Counties Manukau (174%).

In southern, there were 202 callouts last year, compared with 64 in 2017.

As of July this year, there had been 113 callouts, putting the South on track for another record year.