The Police Response

In an earlier article I expressed a concern that the NZ Police were getting a bit too keen on playing Cowboys and Terrorists. I wanted some more data so I sent a letter to the NZ Police asking a number of questions around this issue. I now have a response to that letter.

The first thing to note is that I am impressed with the quality of the response. It arrived in the specified time, answers most of the questions directly and also includes copies of police documents and policies. I’d like to thank all those who were responsible for replacing the Official Secrets Act of 1951 with the Official Information Act of 1982.

(My questions are in bold, answers are in plain text, direct quotes from the Police response are indented, and my comments are in italics.)

1. Which people, positions or ranks within the NZ Police are authorised to deploy squads of armed police (such as the Armed Offenders Squad, anti-terrorist squads or similar). To clarify my request, I am referring to all squads or teams using SWAT-style tactics and equipment.

The information you seek covers a broad range of categories in respect to the NZ Armed Offenders Squad (AOS) and the NZ Special Tactics Group (STG). Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) is an American terminology, there is no such group in the NZ Police.

To summarise, Commissioned Officers (Inspectors or higher) can deploy the AOS while the Commissioner of Police authorises the deployment of the STG.

2. The number of times these squads have been called out in each of the past 10 years (1996-2006) and in the current year to date (2007).

July 1996 to June 1997 533
July 1997 to June 1998 533
July 1998 to June 1999 596
July 1999 to June 2000 548
July 2000 to June 2001 529
July 2001 to June 2002 470
July 2002 to June 2003 547
July 2003 to June 2004 537
July 2004 to June 2005 580
July 2005 to June 2006 681
July 2006 to June 2007 620
July 2007 to December 2007 (partial) 606

I am surprised by the reasonably constant level of AOS callouts from 1996 to 2004, at which point it seems to rise by about 15% or so. Even so, the increase is not as high as I expected.

They refused to reveal the number of STG callouts based on section 6 of the OIA. This is the section that lists reasons why information can be refused. I assume that they are claiming that there is a national security justification but have not followed it up further.

3. The percentage of those call outs that were in response to an incident (e.g. a shooting) as compared to a planned deployment (e.g. to execute an arrest warrant). Any other statistical breakdown of reasons for deployment recorded by the Police.

Over the last five years (2002-2006), 57% of callouts were “emergency callouts” and 43% were “pre-planned callouts”.

I had always thought of the AOS as being used mostly for reacting to situations, so I was somewhat surprised to see that nearly half of the callouts were pre-planned.

4. The policy used to determine whether to use these squads to execute arrest warrants.

Blah, blah, risk assessment, blah, blah.

5. The policy used to determine whether to use these squads to execute search warrants.

Blah ditto

6. The policy used to determine whether these squads will make an unannounced forced entry when executing search or arrest warrants.

From the AOS manual:

Unannounced forced entry
There must be reasonable grounds to believe that announced entry is impracticable. Examples include:
– Saving a person on the premises from death or injury.
– Situations where giving a warning might endanger the police
– Preventing the destruction of evidence
– Entering in the course of ‘hot pursuit’.

7. The circumstances in which these squads are authorised to use incendiary devices such as flash-bang grenades when making an unannounced forced entry.

The devices you refer to as flash bang grenades are NICO Distraction Devices. The authority to deploy these devices comes from the Officer in Charge of the AOS. Again the justification for their use comes out of the risk assessment…

The NICO Distraction Devices should be considered when the situation is serious enough to warrant its use:
– Hostage rescue situations
– High risk building clearance operations
– Barricaded suspect situations where an entry is required.

8. The number of times incendiary devices such as flash-bang grenades have been used in each of the past 10 years (1996-2006) and in the current year to date (2007).

They have been available since 2001 but usage is not recorded.

9. The number of injuries caused by the use of incendiary devices such as flash-bang grenades in each of the past 10 years (1996-2006) and in the current year to date (2007).

There have been no injuries to any members of the public in respect to the use of distraction devices. Two AOS members have received hand injuries during the deployment of these devices since their inception.

Ok, I admit I laughed when I read this. Not that they deserved it, of course.

10. Details of any oversight procedures performed either by the Police or any other body (such as the Police Complaints Authority) to review the use and activities of these squads.

The Office in Charge reports to Police National HQ where it is further analysed by the Tactical Groups Co-ordinator (aka Senior Sergeant Andrew Sissons, the person who wrote this response).

The PCA is an independent body and the Police can’t answer for them.

So, I’ve now got more information on general policy and some interesting statistics but I need to work out what to do next. The problem as I see it is that I need to bring it back to specific cases and I’m pretty certain that I won’t be getting information about them under the OIA. I will be thinking about it.