It could be any office meeting. Morning sunshine streams through the window, staff are sitting around the table flicking through reports and nursing mugs of instant coffee, a manager uses a laser pointer as he talks through slides.It could be Fallujah.
But instead of suits, staff are festooned with weapons and gear – canisters at their chests, pistols at their hips, sledgehammers at their backs, their large semi-automatic weapons laid on tables.
The armed offenders squad is briefing for Operation Cobra in Wellington. Six teams of police are about to search 60 properties in seven days. Fifty-five people will be arrested, and $100,000 worth of drugs and $200,000 in bank accounts will be seized. The squad is involved in a handful of the most dangerous or potentially volatile searches.It could be GI Joe. No, it's just Paraparaumu and the cops on a drug bust, with a branch of AOS for insurance.
Thanks mainly to Jan Molenaar, the exception has now become the rule. Just like American reality TV show COPS from the 90s, the police have now fully embraced the para-military lifestyle.
The briefing is meticulous. Detectives have spent three months gathering intelligence on the suspects. They know the layout of the homes, likely occupants, what drugs they are expecting to find, and they have detailed plans and backup plans for entry.This is grist to the mill for those Search and Surveillance powers currently being reviewed by parliament. Clearly, the cops do not have access to very much information at the moment, eh.
Two hours later, two large black vans with a squad of masked, armed, anonymous officers clinging to the running boards storm through a quiet middle-class suburb. Mothers walking their kids to school gawp at the unfamiliar sight, small children wait patiently at a temporary roadblock, wondering if their bus will come and if their teachers will believe the reason they were late.Two black vans with masked men armed to the teeth speeding through suburban Mum 'n Dadland. Roadblocks not too dissimilar to the Ruatoki raids of yesteryear. Why not order the NZ Navy off the coast to provide bombardment support, just to be sure?
Detectives wait at a safe distance while the AOS swoops on the house and batter their way through the front door.Boy, this is just like CSI. They aren't cowards, they're just cautious. There might be Weapons of Mass Destruction in there.
They find the occupant naked at the sink, apparently trying to flush objects down the drain. A powerful air rifle, similar to that used to kill undercover officer Don Wilkinson in Auckland in September 2008, is lying on the couch in the lounge, and amateur do-it-yourself surveillance has recorded their approach and any other sound outside.While I wouldn't put my chances on a game of scissors paper rock with Clayton Weatherston, I'm pretty sure ninja beats naked man in the game of citizen armour drone. Hey, isn't John Key keen on buying some drones for NZ?
And a "powerful air rifle" is also no match for a Bushmaster. Don Wilkinson died because his attacker was lucky. Take enough pot shots, eventually you might hit something vital. A glorified BB gun does not justify David Gray-at-Aramoana strength equipment.
In the lounge, the plasma TV cycles through photos – a smiling baby oscillates with blurry-looking partygoers, fast cars, and young blonde women flashing their breasts. The life of an alleged drug dealer in a slideshow.Outrageous Fortune DVD set not pictured.
Million-dollar homes in suburbia are a relatively rare target for the AOS. Everything else about this drugs bust is routine. It goes like clockwork.True, you don't see the AOS in Paritai Drive very often, except maybe at parties. I'm sure there's space for a gun room at Mark Hotchin's new pad. Ah, but who needs a gun to rob people these days?
Once armed police have secured the site, detectives come to search the property. It is painstaking work. Every room from the laundry to the garage is meticulously scoured. Every drawer examined, every paper and magazine opened. Every pocket of every item of clothing is shaken out.Once the unnecessary AOS teams go home, with much less fanfare than their arrival, the police clean the house, pick up the laundry and confiscate everything inside.
A specialist firearms dog is brought in to sniff out weapons. The wheelie bin of rubbish is tipped and searched. It is not a glamour job.
Officers find the drug fantasy, a methamphetamine pipe, and more than $10,000 in cash. A man is arrested and charged.$10,000. And how much did the raid cost? Once the inevitable court and possible imprisonment costs are added, is it all worth it?
The same morning in a different part of town, another team has found a sophisticated marijuana-growing setup. The garage in the waterfront property looks like a blokes' paradise, with boats, tools, wetsuits and fishing rods. Buried in the back is a room with 15 healthy plants nurtured by UV lights, a watering system, a carbon filter to extract the smell, and a camera so the grower could keep an eye on his crop on his TV from upstairs. The plants' street value is difficult to estimate – probably about $15,000. In a setup like this, money grows on trees.Kiwi bloke (likes his outdoors, no guns mentioned), gets done for 15 plants, with a laughably estimated value of $15,000. Average haul of a hydro is 2 ounces of head. $700 per plant retail, once everyone down the line has taken their bite as well, it's not much in it for the grower. I'd call 15 plants personal use.
Police say there is a notable difference between search warrants for different drugs. Morphine dealers are often users trying to fund a habit, whereas cannabis or methamphetamine are often run by organised gangs who have higher security and involve higher risk.Dudes, morphine is in a class of its own. Seeing as how Tasmania makes shitloads of the stuff legally, why not fund some decent rehab and be done with it? Do you wonder why Christchurch is full of skagheads? Because they're too isolated down there to get anything else. Why do you think Christchurch went nuts on BZP? There's some good money to be made in a Christchurch scam.
The death of Don Wilkinson no doubt still weighs on some minds, but it does not deter the officers.
In the past five years, Wellington police have kicked in 300 doors and arrested 400 people in seven such operations. Some of those arrested during Operation Cobra were caught in earlier operations. Others were on parole and were recalled to prison as a result of the sting. Thirteen of the arrested were known gang members. In the latest raids, police have seized four homes and frozen $200,000 in bank accounts under the Proceeds of Crime Act, which allows them to seize ill-gotten gains till the accused are either convicted or freed. These powers will strengthen under new laws in December.Yep, this is the start of a long campaign by Judith Collins to crack down on drugs. That, or she's hoping to crash the courts and prison systems. Little wonder Simon Power, the Law Commission and the police are looking at ways to cut corners all around the place.
Operation head Detective Inspector Darrin Thomson says the results are terrific. "We have caused significant disruption amongst those people involved in the drug trade and I am sure this operation sends a clear message."Yes. It sends the message that the MSM has completely lost its objectivity and become part-time PR people for the Police Association. It sends the message that the police have given up chasing burglars and instead gone into the selective burglary business too. It sends the message that police are nothing better than a bunch of raping thieving cowards. Just the people who they were supposed to protect the community from.