22 June 2015
The sponge round is fired from a 40mm gas launcher. It provides Police with an additional tactical option in dangerous situations. It is intended to incapacitate an aggressive, non-compliant person and will commonly cause bruising rather than significant or long-lasting injury. Until now this tactical option has only been available to the Police Special Tactics Group and a small number of Armed Offenders Squads.
On 31 March 2014 Police apprehended Aaron McDonald on the West Coast following a lengthy pursuit. Mr McDonald had earlier murdered a woman in Christchurch and attacked two hitchhikers.
Once contained, Police issued voice appeals over several hours. However, Mr McDonald failed to surrender and presented as a violent risk to himself and others. Police subsequently developed tactics aimed at apprehending Mr McDonald with the least possible harm. This included use of the sponge round and other tactical options.
The first of two sponge rounds was fired at Mr McDonald's legs after CS gas was used to force him out of his car, causing him to stumble. A second round was then fired, distracting him, at the same as a Police dog was released, which engaged Mr McDonald and took him to the ground, enabling officers to restrain him.
Independent Police Conduct Authority Chair, Judge Sir David Carruthers, said although Mr McDonald did not sustain any serious injuries during the incident the Authority was asked by Police to undertake an independent investigation given it was the first time the sponge round had been deployed by New Zealand Police.
The results of that investigation have been reported to the Commissioner of Police.
“The Authority found that the Police involved responded appropriately to this situation and that their command and control of the incident was excellent. The Authority also found that the level of force used to apprehend Mr McDonald was justified in the circumstances.
“While the sponge rounds did not incapacitate Mr McDonald, they were effective in distracting him, and their use in conjunction with the Police Dog Team was effective.
“Police are now planning to make the sponge round available to all Armed Offender Squad groups throughout the country, which the Authority supports,” Sir David said.