SOBERING ROLL CALL
A reluctance to prosecute by police is revealed in a number of IPCA decisions.
The Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) usually investigates complaints of excessive force. A review of some recent cases where use of force was ruled unlawful show a marked reluctance by the police to prosecute. The following summarises both the authority’s findings and the police response.
2009: Wellington police illegally entered a house and used illegal force on occupants, breaking a man’s neck with a baton blow. None of the 11 officers were disciplined. Police response: Officers acted in good faith and the three-year inquiry, harshly criticised by the IPCA as slipshod, was no cover-up.
2011: Invercargill police armed with the assortment of weaponry now in almost every frontline patrol car – Glock, assault rifle and Taser – illegally entered a farmhouse and Tasered a farmer while he was handcuffed. Farmer paid $14,000 damages. Police response: Accept police conduct was technically illegal. Officers reminded of their obligations.
2011: The IPCA finds against a Christchurch police decision that it wasn’t in the public interest to prosecute an off- duty officer for illegally and repeatedly batoning a teenager without cause. Police response: Investigations had been undertaken “with the best intentions” and there was “never any deliberate attempt to protect the officer or to minimise the seriousness of the offending”. 2011: An Invercargill police dog was allowed to maul an already restrained subject for almost a minute; he required three days’ hospital treatment and two sessions of surgery. Recorded by CCTV. Police response: Some of the tactical decision-making was “not as good as it should have been”. An opportunity to reflect on what occurred and learn from the situation.
2011: A Whakatane officer falsely claimed a compliant motorist was resisting, and shocked him for 13 seconds with 50,000-volt discharges from a Taser, after batoning and pepper-spraying him. Police paid out $20,000 damages. Police response: No ill will or malicious intent by the officer, who has learned from the situation.
2013: An Auckland police dog was set on a surrendering suspect who had his hands in the air, and was then allowed to maul another suspect for a minute. Police response: It’s important to remember these situations are fast-moving; report identifies wider lessons for other handlers.
2015: A Hokitika officer wrongly Tasered a mentally ill man twice for a total of 10 seconds; the second shock, two seconds after the first, was while he was trying to surrender. Taser footage showed a claim the man was acting aggressively was false. Taser supervisors were wrong finding this use of force was acceptable. Police response: Accept finding, but officers were facing a volatile situation, and can’t comment on employment matters.