Armed training scares public

BLAIR ENSOR
Last updated 05:00 19/06/2013

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The future of armed police training exercises in Christchurch could be in jeopardy because of complaints from residents.

Police have apologised for any stress caused by three explosions set off during a mock terrorist scenario in an abandoned central city building about 11.45pm on Monday.

The police communication centre received a flurry of calls from concerned residents soon after the almost simultaneous explosions.

Yesterday, people took to social media to vent their frustrations about the police training exercise.

"My nerves can't handle this kind of stupidity, what are they thinking? And what are they training for? How to deal with the panicking public in the midst of flooding?" a resident posted on Trade Me.

"Agreed, I have a very nervous household here as well," another poster said. "Many peeps are still very fragile."

It was the second time police training at a quake-affected site had been questioned by the public in the past week.

Tactical commander Inspector Steve Mather said residents in the immediate area had been warned about Monday night's exercise. However, low cloud and atmospheric conditions meant the noise from the explosions travelled further than expected.

"We've upset some people and I can only formally apologise," Mather said. "I'm gutted that it's happened again. If I get one complaint in a year I'm disappointed."

Post-quake Christchurch provided a unique place in New Zealand in which to train, he said.

However, he did not want to cause earthquake affected residents "the slightest bit of additional grief ".

"It's absolutely top-end critical training for my guys, [but] if we keep upsetting the public I'll have to pull the pin on it."

Mather said he had tried almost every avenue in the past to notify residents about the training, including letter drops, door knocks and articles in the media. However, there was nearly always someone who did not get the message. He was open to suggestions about how to solve the problem.

On Friday, a group of 12-year-olds on their way home from school ran in fear from what they thought were armed police hunting a fugitive in Avondale.

It turned out to be the national police special tactics group that had been using the opportunity to train in empty red-zoned houses.

Mather said about 70 staff had been training in Christchurch and other parts of Canterbury since last week, and Monday night's exercise marked the end of the training.

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