An investigation will be conducted into how a "dangerous" criminal fled police custody in central Dunedin yesterday afternoon, sparking a five-hour manhunt.

Tolu Maanaiama, 27, escaped custody from the Dunedin Central Police Station about 3.30pm and was located by police at an associate's residential address in the city about 8.30pm.

He was arrested and charged with escaping police custody, and was kept in custody overnight to appear in the Dunedin District Court today.

Senior Sergeant Steve Aitken said as soon as Maanaiama was located and apprehended, police turned their attention to how he was able to escape from custody.

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"Our first priority was to locate him and get him back into custody. The circumstances surrounding how he escaped will certainly be looked at," he said.

A "number" of police staff were involved in the search for Maanaiama, who was arrested "without incident", Snr Sgt Aitken said.

Inspector Greg Sparrow, of Dunedin, had earlier said Maanaiama was believed to be dangerous and should not be approached by members of the public.

Police declined to provide details of his active charges.

In 2005, Maanaiama was sentenced to four years' jail after the robbery of a Christchurch dairy with a machete and an imitation firearm.

Police described Maanaiama as 176cm tall, of solid build, with short dark hair and of Samoan descent.

At the time of his escape, he was wearing white and yellow board shorts, a white T-shirt with writing on the front and black socks. He has a tattoo with the word "Jahliyah" or similar on his neck, other tattoos on his hands and a significant tattoo on his upper arm.

Maanaiama had been living in the Dunedin area.

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Police would not be drawn on how he escaped, other than to say their initial focus was on locating him.