AOS squad began with recycled army garb

01:14, Aug 01 2014
REUNION: Former Invercargill AOS armed offenders squad member Robin Criglington will join old AOS mates at a gathering in Invercargill to mark the specialist New Zealand police unit’s 50th anniversary.

The young police officer is given a pair of used army battle greens and told to dye them black.

He has been hand-picked to join the ranks of an elite New Zealand Police squad.

The badged beret he is given, to be worn with the dyed army battle fatigues and navy overalls, mark him as a member of the armed offenders squad.

THEN: Senior Sergeant Brian Beardsley, of the armed offender squad.

It's 1966 and Robin Criglington, a young CIB officer who had served on the mean streets of Auckland, is tapped on the shoulder by his bosses.

"You didn't apply back then; you were asked to join," Criglington recalled.

The squad celebrates 50 years this month and the former Auckland and Invercargill squad member will gather with old colleagues and serving members in Invercargill to mark the milestone this weekend.


NOW: Armed offender squad member Senior Constable Jordan Edwards on the job.

The squad was in its infancy when Criglington was issued with a 38 Smith and Wesson revolver and put through his paces on the training grounds and shooting range.

The squad was born in 1964 after four unarmed New Zealand police officers were gunned down by armed offenders in two separate incidents in 1963. The deaths of the four officers in just four weeks shocked the country and alarmed police authorities.

Criglington had passed the slain officers in the hallways at the Auckland station and had no hesitation in joining the specialist armed unit that had been formed to deal with armed offenders.

"It is a group of police officers dedicated to each other and getting the job done," he said.

"You are very dependent on the fellow next to you."

Fate would see Criglington miss being involved in two of the Invercargill squad's most famous callouts.

He was in Australia when the squad was called into action at the small seaside town of Aramoana on November 13, 1990, when David Gray, a 33-year-old unemployed man, began indiscriminately shooting people with a scoped semi- automatic rifle.

In 1995, when Eric Gellatly took over a sports shop in Invercargill and began firing indiscriminately, he was in Christchurch.

"Part of me wishes I was there with my squad for those times," he said.

Senior Constable Jordan Edwards is a country cop. He is also a member of the Invercargill armed offenders squad.

By day he is unarmed on the beat in Bluff. But when the call comes in for an armed offender, he transforms into a black-clad masked figure armed to the teeth and is deployed to cordon, contain and appeal. "I applied to join the AOS and was lucky enough to get accepted," he said.

Like Criglington, nearly 35 years before him, it was a desire to keep the public and fellow police officers safe that drew him to the squad.

Edwards said he couldn't see himself leaving the squad.

"I think once you become a member of the AOS, they have to drag us out kicking and screaming," he said.

During the decades since its formation, the squad has changed with the times.

The beret, 1942 rifle and revolver, handed-down army fatigues and car batteries to power spotlights have been replaced by helmets, semi- automatic rifles and pistols, kevlar uniforms and night-vision goggles, but the tactics and mandate of the squad have stayed the same.

The squad was also just as important today as it was when it was set up in the aftermath of the 1963 police shootings, the former and current members said.

"A lot more members of the public and police would have died," Criglington said.

The Southland Times