Line Of Fire

8:30pm Monday, November 16 on TV One

In the third and final instalment of Line Of Fire, members of New Zealand Armed Offenders Squad (AOS) talk for the first time about the final moments of the massacre at Aramoana – the repercussions both official and back in their own homes (tonight at 8.30pm on TV ONE).

The haunting horror of Aramoana will remain with squad members forever, with the outcome they finally forced upon David Gray challenging them in ways they had never considered possible.

Squad members Tim Ashton and Peter McCarthy came across the house that Gray was in. McCarthy says they were happy to have finally found his hiding spot: “From within [the house] there was just this huge amount of fire going straight down towards my head… There was fire going both ways past me. I pulled away as quickly as I could around to the edge, I didn’t even look for any holes, I just knew I was ok. We were just absolutely stoked that we had our man.”

Ashton and McCarthy went around to the front of the house and held on the front doors. Ashton says he fired his gun to let Gray know they were there. “I fired high to keep him down, and hopefully there was no one else in the house, so I fired high to let him know we were there, and he wasn’t gunning down women and kids.”

The pair called on Gray to come out. Ashton says if he’d come out at that stage with his hands in the air he would have been arrested. “If he’d just come out and put his hands in the air, no matter what he had done prior to that you couldn’t shoot him, no matter what you thought, or how repulsive, or how much loathing you had for him, you could not shoot him.”

Ashton says after Aramoana he went home and tried to put it out of his mind. “Everyone has dealt with numerous situations – you have to move on, you can’t dwell on it. If you dwell on it you’re finished.”

The 1990s and 2000s presented a frightening new era of violent incidents for the AOS, as levels of crime in New Zealand began to hit new heights. Gang warfare began to rise and the use of P became more prevalent – it seemed fearless lunatics were on sprees everywhere – forcing the AOS to become tactically more aggressive.

Tonight’s episode shows the lowest points of the job. One member talks openly about the time he fired a fatal shot and the enormous toll that took – and continues to take – on his life. Other members battle the evolving crime of today – abductions, armed convicts fleeing custody, ‘P’ fiends with hostages on the motorway firing at police with wild abandon.

The terrifying crime of the 1990s and 2000s dictates that these men and women risk their lives in increasingly more diabolical situations. What drives these men and women to do this largely thankless job?

8:30pm Monday, November 9 on TV One

As the 1980s dawn, the New Zealand Armed Offenders Squad (AOS) is under public scrutiny like never before, in the second episode of the three-part documentary series Line Of Fire (tonight at 8.30pm on TV ONE).

Despite all the incidents that ended without a fatality, it was those in which the AOS took a life that shaped the squads and drew the most criticism. In 1983, the fatal shooting of Paul Chase rocked even the squad members themselves.

Former AOS member Murray Forbes says he will never forget it. In April 1983 he had just joined the squad. “Paul Chase shooting in Petone was the first call out I ever had. The understanding we had was that it could well have been a gang place and for all we knew the firearm was still in the building. It was dark and we needed to go through all these stairs and bang on the door. We kicked the door in because he could well have had the firearm.”

Into the darkness appeared Paul Chase holding something the officer thought to be a gun and he fired a shot, but what had appeared to be a shot gun turned out to be a steel exercise bar.

After Paul Chase’s death the media went ballistic – a man killed for wielding an exercise bar? The squads became hyper-vigilant – every move they made would be under enormous scrutiny.

Forbes says the newspapers attacked the squad for months and the toll on the officers involved was enormous, even if the impact wasn’t visible to outsiders. “Taff and I who had sent the troops forward were as much responsible as the man who pulled the trigger.” He says the impact took a while to go away.

Accused of being trigger-happy, ‘to shoot or not to shoot’ became something members would consider and re-consider, time and time again. Squad members felt the pressure of making life-and-death decisions in a split second.

Then just six months later, a very public call-out in Queen Street, where members were hesitant to take action – even though the offender was clearly putting the lives of others at risk – changed everything. In public mayhem where anything could have happened, it was by luck that a Police dog got the full impact of a gun shot.

Once again, the question was debated: who holds the responsibility? Is the individual squad member simply following orders, or being asked to make life and death decisions in a split second?

Key interviewees share some of their scariest ‘war stories’ – the moments in which they were faced with the terrible decision of whether to take a life or not. Wives and partners tell of their fear and apprehension, as their partners disappeared on operations for days on end.

The 1980s also saw the rise of another tactical response unit – the Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) – with members drawn from the Armed Offenders Squad. The first official deployment of the ATS would take place in 1990, at a quiet seaside community near Dunedin. But no previous training prepared squad members for the carnage that would unfold in the quiet seaside town Aramoana.

One ATS squad member says Aramoana was “a sniper’s paradise”.

8:30pm Monday, November 2 on TV One

TV ONE’s new local three-part series, Line Of Fire, takes viewers into the secretive world of the New Zealand Police Armed Offenders Squad (AOS), tonight at 8.30pm. 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 New Zealand is fortunately free of the high-level of violent crime found elsewhere in the world.

Or is it? Since 2005 the AOS have attended more than 600 incidents nationwide every year – and in the past year the number has leapt to more than 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 sees the untold stories behind some of the key moments in New Zealand’s war on crime, as told by the elite police officers that selflessly put themselves in the Line Of Fire.

Episode one looks at the ‘Rules of Engagement’. The teething years for such a unique squad as the AOS were never going to be simple. By definition they exist to confront people who have no respect for the law, and yet the AOS still need to comply with the law. With many quiet, ground-breaking successes, the early AOS were virtuosos in ingenuity, but still simply policemen, who at times felt tremendous fear.

Providing insight as to why the controversial squad was formed and why New Zealand resisted the arming of the police force, this episode examines the rudimentary gear, early training, the ‘fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants’ attitude, and deals with the first fatal shootings by the AOS.

Bruce Glensor had taken hostages and threatened police officers when he was the first man fatally shot by the AOS. As Line Of Fire reveals, this created a wild stir of emotion with regard to why they hadn’t shot to wound and what exactly were the fire orders.

Interviewees recall being in that moment – deciding to shoot, or not to shoot. Former AOS member Graeme Wilkes was face-to-face with the armed man, Glensor: “We were on a grass verge, there was a few trees and we had 30 metres clear view of him, and he pulled the pistol out and turned around to a dog handler who was advancing on him, and said ‘I’m going to shoot you too’, and as he swung out and aimed the pistol, we both went down in a kneeling position, and he was quicker than I was. Glensor hit the ground and that was it.”

Later in the early 1970’s the AOS were sent bush, this time to track a convicted killer. This story was pivotal in securing the presence of the dog section in the squad. Negotiation or voice appeal quickly became an essential part of the AOS tool kit too.

In 1975, after so many unspoken successes, the AOS were forced to take another life and public debate again raged. Robert Moodie – then the head of the Police Association, later a prominent lawyer – went to bat for the AOS officers, coining a phrase that would make international headlines and remains at the core of operations to this day.

Moodie wrote that members of the AOS “shoot not to wound, not to kill, but simply to achieve the instantaneous and complete elimination of the offender’s capacity to kill or seriously injure others”.

Episode one of Line Of Fire shows the subtle complications of the AOS’s work, and the very real, inevitable fear felt by squad members – not to mention their families at home.