AOS callouts soaring in South

More community pushback against drugs, and increasing gang numbers, are likely to be behind skyrocketing Armed Offender Squad (AOS) callouts in the South.

A new police report outlines the number of AOS callouts recorded, and shows the Southern police district's callouts almost doubled in the space of one year.

There were 60 callouts in 2017, and 118 in 2018. That was the biggest increase in the country.

The 2018 tactical options report also outlines how often tactical options such as batons, tasers, and firearms are used by police.

Otago Coastal area prevention manager Inspector Wil Black said he had noticed a significant increase in community engagement in the past 12 to 18 months.

''It's greater community engagement, greater community awareness of the harm that drugs are doing within vulnerable communities: they're more likely to call and report drug activity and often that's the piece of information that we need to be able to get a warrant to be able to act,'' he said. That drug trade was being increasingly driven by gangs, which have been increasing their presence in the south.

The Otago Daily Times reported last month that in October 2017 there were 134 patched gang members or prospects in the Southern police district.

By the end of August this year, that had increased to 217.

''Obviously there has been an increase, and that's caused us to increase our activity to try to disrupt and suppress that,'' Insp Black said.

He did not believe there had been a decrease in the threshold for AOS callouts.

''Obviously AOS gets called out to critical incidents, and often where there's been firearms or a level of threat that needs a specialist squad.

''I wouldn't say the level has increased, I would say it's the level of community involvement and engagement more than anything else.''

But he did say the Christchurch terror attack had affected AOS deployment.

''Of course you can't have something like that happen in the country and not change the way you think and the way you see risk.

''It's caused us to re-look at the way that we deploy, the way that we assess risk.''

The tactical options report also showed the Southern police district had one of the lowest levels of taser use, firearm use and dog use at incidents last year, compared with other police districts around the country.

daisy.hudson@odt.co.nz

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