AOS eyes dramatic practice at high school
Marlborough high school students might find themselves locked down in a classroom waiting to be rescued by the Armed Offenders Squad if they volunteer to be involved in an armed gunman practice scenario.
The Nelson Armed Offenders Squad (AOS), made up of six Blenheim police officers and 12 Nelson officers, averaged between 20 and 60 jobs a year. This month marks the 50th anniversary of the AOS in New Zealand.
Nelson AOS commander and Marlborough area commander Inspector Simon Feltham said the AOS approach to armed offenders of cordon, contain and appeal hadn't changed in that time.
"If you've got an offender, the aim is to cordon, contain and negotiate with them, with the aim to talk them out rather than take any other action," he said.
In the year ending July 31, they responded to 26 call outs.
An armed shooter situation at a high school was just one of many scenarios the squad practiced in its 18 training days a year.
The squad practised the scenario at Waimea College in Richmond in June.
About 80 students volunteered to be involved in the role play, which took place after school finished. Areas of the school were sectioned off and people acted out roles, including that of the gunman. Students stay locked down in classroom until they're rescued and led out by AOS members.
It was a good opportunity for teachers and staff to test their preparation and for students to be exposed to AOS members, Feltham said.
"We did the training and the [students] could talk to the AOS officers without the gear on, so they realised they're just police officers in a different uniform," he said.
The scenario was likely to be practiced at a Marlborough high school next year after a drive for more preparation involving active shooter scenarios at schools, he said.
"There's been a push from people in the education field to how we would respond, what plans we have in place, and we need to train to practice that response," he said.
"For us, obviously, it's the worst case scenario."
Sergeant Julian Lewis, of Blenheim, has been in the AOS for 14 years. After many years as a dog handler, he is now a team leader, one of four in the Nelson squad who reported directly to the commander.
He has never had to fire a weapon, but the training was there if he needed to, he said.
Creating realistic training scenarios tested the officers under fire and made them more alert to the possible dangers of a real life event, he said.
"We use a lot of simunition (simulated ammunition) - firing paint balls out of regular firearms at a really high speed," he said.
"Testing the guys under fire brings a different edge to it."
AOS officers wear a black uniform with ballistic body armour, the same as general duty staff but a different colour.
Their full kit, including a .223 semi automatic rifle, a Glock 17 handgun, a gas launcher, and a taser, weighs just under 20 kilograms.
The last emergency call the squad responded to in Marlborough was in Havelock, where a mentally unstable man in possession of firearms and using methamphetamines was making threats to his family.
He was talked down almost immediately, Feltham said.
Police officers wanting to sign up to the AOS had to pass a regional test, and if they were successful, sit a national test.
Last week seven Marlborough and Nelson staff sat the regional test. Four have made it through to the national selection course.
The Marlborough Express