The Armed Offenders Squad and a team of armed uniformed police searched an industrial area of Gate Pa yesterday.
Police remained tight-lipped last night other than saying they were executing a search warrant in relation to an ongoing inquiry.
Acting area commander Inspector Karl Wright-St Clair said he had spoken to the officer in charge and no comment would be made about the investigation at this time.
Witness Mitchell Robinson, who works two buildings away, said he saw six armed policemen in Wilrose Place, off Courtney Rd in Merivale, yelling for a person to exit a building with their hands up.
Several other policemen were also seen in and around a business at the end of Wilrose Place.
An armed police officer was standing at the police cordon at the entrance of Wilrose Place turning people away when the Bay of Plenty Times arrived at the scene about 3.50pm.
Several armed uniformed police searched around business premises inside the cordon.
That included looking inside and underneath skip bins, recycling containers, cars and also over a boundary fence down towards a water-filled culvert.
Staff at one local business inside the cordon, who asked not to be named, said they saw the AOS members arrive and these officers spent quite some time at the scene.
The AOS were then replaced by uniformed officers who were going door to door speaking to tenants about what they saw and may have heard, one staff member said.
One man said he had been asked by a police officer whether he had a heard a shot but confirmed he had not, although he was busy working inside his workshop.
The search resulted in significant disruption as they had been told to remain inside, and arriving customers had to be served via the back door or turned away, the man said.
Another man who worked nearby said this was not the first time the area had been searched by police, but he was stunned by how many armed officers turned up yesterday.