As police search for volatile and dangerous gunman Rollie Heke, Waikato officers are working in pairs and armed at all times.

The directives show how serious police are taking the hunt for the fugitive after he fired a series of rounds at three Waikato police officers early on Sunday.

Waikato Superintendent Bruce Bird said Heke's actions against police were the most extreme he had seen in his 40 years with the force.

Yesterday, the operation escalated to its maximum potential, as Detective Superintendent Chris Page announced the search would be elevated to a "national level".

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Page said police believe Heke has moved out of the Morrinsville area and had associates helping him avoid police.

"He has contacts across New Zealand, especially the North Island."

Police would be visiting and questioning people associated with him, he said. Page reminded people they too could face charges if they were found to be helping Heke avoid police.

Wanted man Rollie James Heke, 36, with longer hair. Photo/Supplied
Wanted man Rollie James Heke, 36, with longer hair. Photo/Supplied

Heke is connected with the Black Power and Nomads gangs - but Page urged they be careful he was known for violent behaviour, even against his associates.

He revealed police have been looking for him since September last year.

The Herald has learned that since the search for Heke began, an order was given that all Waikato staff work in pairs and be armed at all times.

A police spokesman confirmed the doubling-up directive was based on the information and intelligence available to police at the time, however it wouldn't be spread nationwide.

An armed officer stands at a cordon on Studholme St on Sunday night as armed offenders squad members search a house for Rollie Heke. Photo / Belinda Feek
An armed officer stands at a cordon on Studholme St on Sunday night as armed offenders squad members search a house for Rollie Heke. Photo / Belinda Feek

Page said anyone who spotted Heke should ring 111 immediately and not approach him.

"We're dealing with a highly unpredictable person here."

He said police were looking at crimes immediately before and after Heke went missing, including car thefts and discoveries of burned-out cars.

Page said the police officers who were shot at were dealing with the situation.

"No one is ready or prepared to cope with what they did last Sunday morning.

Police believe Heke led officers on a chase in Morrinsville on Sunday morning, before they were forced to flee when he shot at them.

They hid in surrounding paddocks while their patrol vehicles were riddled with bullet holes.

A man and a woman were taken into custody on Sunday but police said Heke escaped on foot.

Page's announcement comes after Heke's mother Marie Masalu urged him to give himself up.

"Please do the right thing. Turn yourself in, son," Masalu told One News.