Gut-wrenching day for men in blue

The day a policeman is killed on the job makes it a tough and gut-wrenching day, says the policeman in charge of the inquiry into the 28th slaying of an officer on duty.

The Counties Manukau police area where undercover police sergeant Don Wilkinson, 46, was shot dead, was a tough police beat, Detective Inspector John Tims said today.

The police were a tight family, he said.

"When one gets hurt, we all hurt. It is a tough day, it is gut wrenching, it is just tough," said Mr Tims at a media conference a few hours after Mr Wilkinson died and his undercover colleague, also a sergeant, was shot several times.

At the same conference Commissioner Howard Broad said, as well as the murder inquiry, police were holding their own inquiry into the covert drug operation, initially assessed as low risk but which led to a police death.

"For the second time this year we have had the tragic situation of an officer who has been killed in the line of duty," he said.

"This operation was targeted at the drugs trade. It is a dangerous business we do.

"It would appear the procedures we have for these sort of operations have been followed and includes detailed risk assessments.

"In order to assure myself of that, there will be a full internal inquiry into these events and lessons, if they are there to be learned, will be learned.

"My thoughts and those of every member of the police will be with the family of Sergeant Wilkinson. To lose a family member this way must be deeply distressing and we send our deepest sympathy and condolences to the family."

Mr Broad said the shooting reinforced the sense of vulnerability within every police officer "and that that can happen unexpectedly".

Police Association president Greg O'Connor said the shooting showed how vulnerable police were.

He said in a small country where the police were close no matter where they served, such news spread very quickly.

"When we get this phone call in the middle of the night we all know what it is. We know it is an officer down and as soon as that happens word very quickly goes throughout the country."

He said "a real mood hits policing in the country and the first thing people do is pick up phones often and ring home.

"I have now experienced it many times and when you walk into a station after it has happened, you can almost feel it in a station that this has happened to one of us."

Mr O'Connor said every day there were "near misses" which were discussed at morning briefings or over a beer at night.

"It is just so many of those near misses are becoming the real thing."

He said generally the more covert the operation was, the more serious the crime and the more serious the criminals.

Prime Minister Helen Clark said today her thoughts were with the policeman's family.

"Police every day put their lives on the front line. The officer last night was on duty and he's been killed by a criminal. That will go severely punished and my thoughts are with his family."

She was asked if there was a problem with violence in South Auckland.

"I think it would be wrong just to point the finger at one particular area. Sadly in our society, as in any society, we have criminals who target police officers doing their duty and that's unacceptable anywhere," she said.

- NZPA

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