Police are increasingly being called to incidents involving firearms. On a recent Saturday night reporter John Weekes rode with Counties Manukau Police to see what really happens when a call comes in involving a firearm.
It's quiet for a while, the radio crackling sometimes, codes mostly unknown to an outsider. It's been steady but not much on Saturday night has troubled police in Counties Manukau. At 9.31pm, a call about fighting in a park and bottles thrown. Before that, an intruder reported at a squalid Weymouth house where a long creeping weed grows in the kitchen and a bong grows slime on the dining table.
Everything changes when one word is heard.
Two firearms jobs at the same time. At least one is happening in the police district's densely populated western area.
What'll this firearms job be? Another drunk? Another domestic tyrant flashing a weapon in a display of machismo? Another meth-head? Another shot fired in the Rebels-King Cobras conflict? Or another of the many intimidation tactics and drive-by shootings the public never hears about?
A minute ago, we were talking about guns. Everyone has an opinion on guns. Now the details drip through. Where's the gunman? Who's responding?
"I'll keep coming but I'm miles away," a voice on the radio says.
Just a few days earlier, Constable Matthew Hunt's killer was sentenced, and in an ongoing atmosphere of gang warfare, now we've got two firearms jobs in as many minutes.
With sirens sounding on the road to Favona, adrenaline surging, time changes. Everything is faster but in the absence of distraction, you can take a lot in. What's an abstraction to commentators, activists, politicians, everyone with an opinion, suddenly becomes immediate and real.
The pistol in the lockbox. How many seconds or nanoseconds will it take to get, and will that be enough time? Ballistic plates for the body armour. Some cops wear the plates all the time. They say there've been too many close calls lately, too many nuts with guns who think nothing of shooting the weapon. How far to the scene? What is the scene? There's one way to know, and that's by getting there, fast. Someone has to go.
They say for the Armed Offenders Squad to get ready, get here and make a plan, it'll take at least an hour. So this Saturday night, as on many nights, it's for the frontline officers to deal with. Before 10pm about eight patrol cars assembled a few blocks from the scene. Two units are already much closer. The senior sergeant scrawls notes on his car bonnet.
"We're going to go into the driveway, head out and we're just gonna surround the house," another cop says.
The sirens are off and when the corner's turned, all you can see is police cars down a long straight road.
Cops gather near the top of a lane where the incident happened. "Four people so far out of the address," an officer says.
A minute later we're in the lane, staring down to the house.
"Our cordon team's here and we've got arrest teams behind us who are going to come through and take them into custody," the senior sergeant says.
The police dog barks a lot. It's dark and too soon to tell who's who when people are brought out of the house. A silhouette breaks the torchlight, two arms in the air.
"Quickly. C'mon. Put your hands up."
Police ask who else is inside. The silhouette was a resident. Police at the front, down the lane, organise a team with the dog handler for a tactical clearance of the house, make sure nobody's hiding. They'll clear each room individually.
Although darkness and the unexpected nature of this job may seem incubators for chaos, the atmosphere is focused and quiet. Everything is sequential. There is a plan, one made with little time to spare, but it seems understood. People only speak when necessary.
The dog is not so silent. Barking, barking. "Cut it out," the handler says.
It's 10.18pm when police approach the front door, firearms up, and everything is sharp lines, elbows, angles. There is no softness in the light or sound. People observing are rigid. Cop cars in the lane form a line, offer chunks of steel to protect anyone further back in case the gunman is there and decides to start shooting.
Soon it's more apparent what's unfolded. No one is in the house. But outside, a smashed stereo and light, shards of glass on the ground. Inside, the family home is trashed and bedroom furniture wrecked. Gang tax, or an attempted gang tax.
Someone thinks they're owed money.
Four or five people, one with a knife, another with a long-barrelled gun had been through the home. Someone heard someone saying: "Where's your f**king brother?"
They were hyped. Everyone was hyped. Someone heard: "I'll shoot your f**king dog".
Others say they didn't hear or see what happened. The curtains were drawn. Maybe they didn't want to see.
The cops have a debrief. The senior sergeant's asked about different scenarios, and explains how tactics vary, and how the strategy would differ if this was a hostage situation. It's clear that apart from the formal training, much is learned on the job.
The adrenaline has faded. In its place is curiosity, then sadness for those caught in the mess. An elderly man in the house winces. "Yeah, I'm injured, but internally," he says.
It turns out that not long before this home invasion/aggravated robbery/standover, whatever you want to call it, his car was damaged.
He says he was out fundraising and came home to see that someone rear-ended his car.
Not a good day for him. Not a good night. Somebody says if he can't feel his injuries now, there's a reason.
"He'll feel it in the morning. Because he's drunk at the moment."