Heroes of March 15
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In a private ceremony during the Police Association Annual Conference last month, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern presented the officers with their awards and shared some of her memories of March 15.
The Prime Minister gave the officers a vote of thanks on behalf of all New Zealand.
She told them that as the daughter of a police officer first and foremost, the work of the police meant a great deal to her.
In the formal part of the presentation, she was joined by Police Minister Stuart Nash, Police Commissioner Mike Bush, District Commander John Price and association president Chris Cahill.
For the two officers, their families and delegates who were in the room for the presentation, the line-up of dignitaries was appreciated as a mark of true respect for the actions of Officers A and B on March 15. Due to a court-ordered name suppression, they cannot be named at this stage.
After the presentation, the officers and their families spent time chatting with the Prime Minister, Police Minister, Commissioner and DC Price, before joining conference delegates for lunch.
Chris Cahill says that after the emotion of the Bravery Award ceremony, being able to take time to mingle was a real positive for the recipients and their families.
He says everyone was very much at ease, which is exactly what he had been hoping for.
“We have been extremely mindful during this whole process of making sure the Bravery Award ceremony was a positive experience for those who have gone through so much this year.
“It is not unprecedented for the award to be given in a private setting, and this year’s was one of those occasions for which privacy had to be respected,” Chris said.
“It was also great for the officers to attend a conference function that night. It gave their association colleagues a chance to thank them personally for their extraordinary actions which are so appreciated by all.”
Officers A and B, who have 40 years of policing experience between them and are based in small towns in rural Canterbury, said they were extremely proud to have been given the award, particularly as they were nominated by their colleagues.
“We have known each other for many years, including playing many games of rugby together, and had total trust in each other’s abilities, and total faith that the other would do their job and continue to go forward regardless of what we encountered,” they said.
“For us, knowing we played our part in possibly preventing further casualties is really important.
“We know our families are truly proud of what we were able to do, and that has helped tremendously in the past months.
“To those families who were torn apart by this event, through death or injury, our hearts go out to you all. As officers our job is to keep New Zealanders safe so when we can’t do that, it cuts deep,” the officers said.
After the ceremony, Officer A said: “We got Player of the Day but our job was easy – we didn’t have to clean up what came after. We were just representing the blue jersey that everyone else was wearing.”
The officers were full of praise for the work of the association, particularly regional officer Mike McRandle and field officer Catherine McEvedy. Officer B said: “The association has been magnificent in the aftermath with their support.”
Although the two men already knew each other very well, they acknowledged that they now shared a special bond because of the unique position in which they had found themselves.
Police Association president Chris Cahill said, “To be able to achieve what they did is a testament to those officers. The ability to make the quick decision to go forward and act made all police officers here and around the world incredibly proud. They just said, ‘We’ve got to take this person out’, and they put aside their own safety.”
How the arrest played out
Officers A and B were in Christchurch attending a training session in a disused part of Princess Margaret Hospital in Cashmere. Coincidentally, the sessions were about dealing with offenders in armed incidents.
That afternoon about 2pm, they learnt a heavily armed man had entered the Deans Ave mosque and shortly after, the Linwood mosque, opening fire on those gathered for Friday prayers.
They assumed, correctly, that the suspect would use routes that skirted the city, rather than go through the CBD. A report came in that a vehicle fitting the description was on Brougham St. They made their way there and found an SUV weaving in and out of lanes with its hazard lights on.
They weighed up the risks of a pursuit – the suspect could get away, possibly unleashing more carnage or might crash, putting other road users at risk. They quickly decided to ram the suspect’s car to immobilise it.
Driving hard into the driver’s side of the SUV, both vehicles came to a stop on the side of the road, the SUV’s front right wheel off the ground and spinning.
Knowing the suspect was armed, and disregarding their own safety, the officers approached with firearms drawn.
They challenged the man who was wearing ballistic clothing and had firearms beside him. The officers also noticed a large knife attached to the man’s vest and a potential improvised explosive device in the rear of the vehicle. They warned the public and other police to keep clear as they thought the IED could be detonated and other offenders might be nearby.
Using tactical options, they succeeded in dragging the “non-compliant” man out of the passenger’s side of his vehicle, holding him down as back-up was called for.
Cellphone video footage, shot from a distance by a member of the public, shows the arrest. Despite the poor, grainy footage, the intense focus of the officers to secure the arrest is apparent.
Police Commissioner Mike Bush and others later said if it had not been for the officers’ actions, it is likely more people would have been killed.
THE BRAVERY AWARD
The New Zealand Police Association Bravery Award began in 2010 to honour and give peer recognition for the most outstanding acts of bravery by members of Police, on or off duty. The design of the award is based on the sternpost of a Māori waka, traditionally carved to provide guardianship of a journey. The cast bronze sternpost incorporates a Police chevron and represents the strength, resolve and community guardianship of police. The sternpost is topped by a flame of pounamu, representing the outstanding valour of the act of bravery and the high value in which the recipient is held.
Before the presentation of this year’s awards, association president Chris Cahill paid special tribute to one of the original members of the Bravery Award selection panel, Sir Brian Lochore, who died in August. This year’s selection panel comprised Dame Annette King, Sir Anand Satyanand, Police Superintendent Sam Hoyle, Chris, and association vice-president Craig Tickelpenny.