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Issue No. 395 September 2015

Reassurance in action

In the NCCC Police Commissioner Mike Bush briefs Police Minister Michael Woodhouse, who was visiting PNHQ for meetings, on the search.
Photo: Stephen Matthews, Ten One

On 19 August communities in the central North Island awoke to news of a gunman at large and armed police on their streets.

The search was resolved in less than 20 hours without injury despite shots being fired at police pursuing a fleeing car, a police vehicle being stolen and a large area being in effective lockdown for a day.

In the meantime Operation Parapara, the search for Dolphy Kohu, required extensive community engagement to reassure locals their safety was Police’s priority.

In the Central District Command Centre (DCC), incident controller Inspector Mark Harrison oversaw deployment of large numbers of police – including STG and AOS – from Central and beyond.

Social media speculation was rife and there were immediate questions about, for example, whether schools would open. “We needed to get really good messages out around reassurance,” says Mark.

“We needed to say ‘You can see the helicopter and the police cars, and the people in black with firearms – that’s us, and we’re here to keep you safe’.”

Local schools were contacted and an email/text tree was organised so information could be passed quickly. They were promised an update early the following morning.

Ruapehu Mayor Don Cameron, who had contacted local police seeking information, received a call from the incident team to update him. Whanganui Mayor Annette Main, in whose city the pursuit had started, was also briefed.

“Mayor Cameron and school staff were in demand by the media,” says Mark. “But they were able to say ‘The police are keeping us informed’.”

Feedback was positive. “The mayor rang before a media interview and asked what would be useful to pass on. We were able to give him a briefing. It was about consistency of messaging.”

Media releases were updated regularly. An initial ‘stay indoors’ message shifted to advice to go about normal business with caution, reinforced by District Commander Superintendent Sue Schwalger at a morning news conference.

Extra high-visibility patrols were sent into business areas and around schools then, as night fell, into entertainment areas.

News of developments – such as arrests during the day – was snapped up. The huge interest was reflected online: in one day Police’s national and Central District Facebook posts reached 100,000 people, with 20,000 sharing or liking posts or clicking through to the Police website. Police Twitter posts reached 27,000 people.

From PNHQ the National Command and Coordination Centre (NCCC) provided extra support. With the NCCC monitoring district RIOD postings, the DCC could work without having to brief the Executive or handle inquiries from Molesworth Street.

“Any support we needed, we just had to pick up the phone and ask the NCCC,” says Mark.

At 9.20pm Kohu and two others were arrested at a roadblock at Waiouru – and Grant Ogilvie and Amy Stewart-Badger, of Public Affairs, had the pleasure of breaking the news via Twitter. When the schools were updated next morning, it was good news.

“The District did really well to reach out to people to make sure they knew what was going on, advise how they could stay safe and reassure them police were there to protect them,” says Commissioner Mike Bush.

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