Vest could have saved officer's life

An anti-stab vest could have saved the life of an officer described as a "MacGyver" of the police force.

Sergeant Don Wilkinson (46), died from a single shot to the upper body about 1.45am on Wednesday while a colleague who wore the vest survived being shot three times.

Police would not reveal where the injured officer (44) is wounded but Superintendent Ted Cox said body armour would be an aspect of the review of policy, practices and procedures arising from the murder of Sgt Wilkinson, of Waimauku, just northwest of Auckland.

Asked whether a stab-resistant vest could have saved Sgt Wilkinson, Supt Cox said: "We traversed those things with some of the family.

Mum is happy.

She said, 'My son knew the risks.' "There is a difference between stab-resistant body armour and full ballistic armour [which] is heavy and thick and designed to take a high-powered sniper rifle shot in the chest."

Police believe Sgt Wilkinson was killed by a 5.56mm slug fired by an FX Monsoon model 5.56-calibre gas power rifle fitted with a scope seized on Thursday, though forensic work to confirm this is ongoing.

Body armour can be a hind-rance when fitting devices in confined spaces such as beneath a vehicle, as the men were doing.

Supt Cox defended risk assessment intelligence which did not indicate weapons were likely to be at the Hain Ave, Mangere, address. Sgt Wilkinson and a colleague from the police's covert technical support unit were installing a tracking device on a vehicle at the property while a third officer was present as lookout.

Armed back-up was a block away.

The men were disturbed and fled on foot, pursued by two men in a car. They were shot about 75m from the target address before police back-up reached them.

Supt Cox said having armed back-up in visual contact with the technical unit members would increase the risk of detection.

Former policeman, Cam Stokes said the work of the technical support unit was fraught and attracted a certain type.

"It's one of those jobs people do because they love it," said Mr Stokes, who headed the now-defunct specialist Auckland gang squad.

"They are electronics people, they are recruited because of their skills. MacGyvers, that's what they are."

Retired Detective Inspector Graeme Bell said: "They often operate with their hearts in their mouths and are always at risk of discovery.

"The thrust of covert ops is not to be discovered, so they don't come face to face with offenders. Really, they don't want to be carrying firearms because they have to carry equipment as well."

The Hain Ave property was a suspected methamphetamine laboratory, but police yesterday said no drug-making material was found at the address.

Supt Cox acknowledged the illicit drug business was characterised by violence and gangs and said such things were part of the assessment.

"If the risk assessment said there were guns in this place and we have to kit people up with full body armour we wouldn't actually do it that way because the risk would be too great."

Stab-resistant vests were "mandatory" for frontline staff because of the prevalence of injuries from people using knives and screwdrivers.

For covert staff, assessment was made job by job.

"Certainly, there was no suggestion from all the profiling of all the people and the address that there was any resort to firearms potential," said Supt Cox.

"We take it as a given that at some level it's always there [as a risk] but nothing to elevate it to that next level where you say, 'Hey. Let's not go there'."

He said the officers triggered security lights at the Hain Ave address, but that was expected. Police have seized the car believed to have been involved in the chase and are searching for a possible witness, a man seen by a stream behind Hain Ave.

He was described as wearing a hooded sweatshirt and had bare feet and dark skin.

Supt Cox said the Wilkinson family, though grief-stricken, were proud of their son and the work he and his colleagues did.

Two Pakeha men arrested over his death are due to appear again in court on September 23. 


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