Police are continuing their search for the three men who escaped custody after an emergency lever was pulled at Levin's courthouse last night.
The men, who have gang connections and were in custody facing violence and driving-related charges, were inside Levin District Court and being moved to where a transport vehicle was located about 5.40pm.
A fourth offender restrained an officer, allowing for the three men to escape, Manawatu Area Commander Inspector Sarah Stewart told media today.
One offender pressed an emergency lever, which opened the roller door of the internal garaging of the court, she said.
The men - 30-year-old Wiremu Eparaima, 27-year-old Te Wera Hemara and 23-year-old Emmanuel Witana - are then alleged to have ran to a nearby supermarket and hijacked a vehicle, ordering the driver to flee with them inside.
They asked the man to drop them off in northwest Levin, where they got out and ran off on foot, police said. The man involved was "very shaken up" but is assisting police, Ms Stewart said.
The fourth man involved will again appear in the Levin court today, this time charged with aggravated assault and assisting an escape.
Ms Stewart said the three men still on the run have strong links to the Horowhenua area. She strongly urged any of their associates not to assist them.
"We have no information that there is a specific threat to the public. However, we do urge the public to not approach these men but to call us if they see anything suspicious."
If spotted, the public should call 111 immediately. Any information that may assist can also be reported anonymously to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.
"Our focus is ensuring the immediate piece of mind and safety of our community. We absolutely understand that this is very concerning, and we're working extremely hard, and are very motivated to locate these offenders as quickly as we can," Ms Stewart said.
She said it was not normal practice to only have two officers with four offenders - the best practice would be two officers per offender - and she did not believe the offenders were handcuffed. As well with how the offender was able to push the lever, Ms Stewart said the specifics would be investigated in coming days.
"Both of those officers are very good officers," she said. "Of course, they are extremely distressed and upset by this."
They weren't injured and both were at work today.
Police, including dog handlers, are searching for the offenders in the wider Manawatu area and following active lines of inquiry. Police are also in contact with other districts to locate the men.