Who are the men behind the masks?
This three part documentary series takes viewers into the secretive world of the NZ Police Armed Offenders Squad (AOS).
Most Kiwis will only see the Armed Offenders Squad at a distance or on TV – and will be thankful for that. This elite squad is only called out in worst-case scenarios and in this country we’re fortunately free of the high-level of violent crime found elsewhere in the world.
Or are we? Since 2005 the AOS have attended over 600 incidents nationwide every year – and in the past year the number has leapt to over 750. The squad is a barometer of public safety and the black suits are coming out more and more these days.
How has violent crime changed in the 45 years since the inception of the Armed Offenders Squad – and how have the ways in which the squad has been deployed changed?
This series explores the untold stories behind some of the key moments in our nation’s war on crime, as told by the elite police officers that selflessly put themselves in the Line of Fire.
The NZ Police Armed Offenders Squad
They’re immediately recognisable – dressed head-to-toe in imposing black, carrying heavy-duty weapons and moving with a sense of purpose that sets them apart as the best of the best.
They’re the Armed Offenders Squad and they’re the New Zealand Police’s last line of defence. Formed in 1964 as a response to escalating crime and increasing use of firearms, the AOS has long been the ultimate solution in the war on violent crime. Swift, efficient and capable of using deadly force, the men (and some women) of the AOS are drawn from the regular force – volunteers from across all branches of the Police who undergo a rigorous selection process and undertake extra training before returning to regular duties and awaiting the call.
"And I’m almost embarrassed to tell you this sort of thing, but my hand, I tell you was just physically shaking. Because I thought this guy could just pop out of the bush and just shoot us, you know. Because we were tracking a killer."
AOS dog handler
The basic method of operating has not changed since the inception of the squad – cordon, contain and appeal to armed offenders. The squads are supported by negotiation teams and specially trained police dogs and handlers. The vast majority of incidents are resolved without the use of force, but members of the squads know that when they are called, they’ll be going in to a situation where they may be called upon to kill – or be killed.
"The Armed Offenders Squad marksman shoots not to wound, not to kill, but simply to achieve the instantaneous and complete elimination of the armed offender’s capability to kill or seriously injure others.”
Prominent Lawyer Rob Moodie, writing in the New Zealand Law Society Journal in 1976
The Special Tactics Group (formerly the Anti Terrorist Squad) is the most elite arm of this select force. Their members fall under the broad AOS designation but their tactics are more aggressive.
They train to take direct action when other means have failed. The AOS are irrevocably linked with flashpoints of violent crime in our nation’s history. Since 1964, 22 people have been fatally shot by police, the majority of them by a member of the AOS.
Many thousands of other violent offenders have been overpowered or talked-down.
"You get half a second to make a decision. And you know if you pull the trigger your life is never ever going to be the same."