Recent armed siege situations over the last couple of years both here and in the United States have got me thinking about appropriate procedures, not just during the siege but also before and after. I am in effect acknowledging that sometimes Police do not always get the situation right. Sometimes situations that have gone wrong can have both substantial problems for law enforcement.
On Wednesday afternoon a person in the Bay of Plenty started shooting at a light aircraft that the Police were using in a drugs bust. Not surprisingly the Police officers on board reported ground based gun fire and asked for help. Within minutes the Armed Offenders Squad was being kitted out for what would become a significant operation dealing with the gunman. Over the several hours four officers were shot by the offender who gave himself up after 22 hours.
In a siege that would become significant because the Police employed army Light Armoured Vehicles to take cover in should there be any significant gunfire, characteristics that proved to me the New Zealand Police approach to armed sieges is correct, were borne out. Among them, they did not try to immediately storm the property, which would have led to a quite bloody and probably lethal confrontation. The negotiators stayed near the property whilst armed Police and the Armed Offenders Squad maintained a cordon, and were able to negotiate with the man long enough to convince him he should give up.
I assume that at the end of each siege the officers and units involved sit down and have a debrief where they talk about how the siege went from an operational perspective and that some sort of report is complied for the purpose of record keeping. After the 2007 Urewera Police raids acting on information that there was planning for some sort of act of terrorism going on which were controversial in their nature from the get-go, Police began reviewing how they work with other parties and overhauling their protocol. The raids raised questions about Police intelligence, but also whether the raids were appropriate or even necessary.
With any siege there is always a high risk that it will end with deaths or further injuries. Sometimes stake outs go wrong. Sometimes the offender is so desperate to cause as much damage and chaos as possible that they are perfectly prepared to die in a gun fight, such as David Gray who committed the Aramoana massacre. The offenders mental well being is not known, but clearly going to be on tenterhooks for the duration of the siege and the officers will be trying to avoid making him/her do anything that might harm any innocent bystanders caught in the middle, any hostages on the premises. And in all circumstances if they can get the offender to give themselves up peacefully, what reasonable efforts can be made to enable this will happen.
So, with the Bay of Plenty siege over, the Police will be putting together what they know and learnt from Wednesday’s siege. Whilst four of their colleagues were shot, none of the injuries were life threatening, and they were eventually able to persuade the offender to give up. Will we be as lucky next time?