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“Police acknowledge IPCA’s parliament protest findings” – Jevon McSkimming

Police acknowledge the findings of the Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA), in relation to complaints received about the protest and occupation at Parliament in 2022.

The protest and occupation of Parliament grounds in 2022 was an unprecedented event in New Zealand and presented one of the most significant policing challenges in decades.

Hundreds of police officers were deployed across the duration of the protest and occupation and I am incredibly proud of the work that they did.

They were faced with a level of violence and vitriol that we have never before experienced in New Zealand.

They exercised an extraordinary amount of restraint throughout the protest and occupation, including on 2 March when many officers had a genuine and warranted fear for the safety of themselves and their colleagues.

Despite the provocation and violent behaviour exhibited by some protesters over the duration of this event, the overwhelming majority of our officers did an exemplary job. There were a very small number of incidents where we didn’t get it right, and where that occurred, we have acknowledged that and, where appropriate, taken steps to address it.

Of the 1,905 complaints received by the IPCA, it determined that 19 required either a specific investigation or further enquiries to be undertaken.

A further two complaints were received following the publication of the IPCA’s general report regarding the protest and occupation in April 2023, meaning that 21 specific complaints were considered by the IPCA, in 17 separate investigations.

Across these 17 investigations, the IPCA found the Police use of force was excessive in six instances. There was also one adverse finding in relation to the impoundment and damage of a vehicle.

For ease of reference, I will set out here our response to each of the seven investigations where there was an adverse finding regarding Police actions, using the title of each investigation as set out in the IPCA report.

Investigation four:

The IPCA found that Police were justified in arresting a man for trespass, however as he was not physically resisting arrest with force, there was no basis for the officer to use any force during the man’s arrest.

While some force can be used when persons are passively resistant and refusing to comply with instructions, how much force is reasonable in any situation is fact-specific.

The surrounding circumstances and subjective view of the officer concerned need to be considered when deciding what is reasonable.

Police accept that the force used in this instance was not reasonable or necessary in the circumstances.

Investigation six:

This investigation concerned the use of force by one officer on three people during their arrests on 10 February.

The officer restrained the heads of these people and the IPCA examined the techniques used by the officer.

The IPCA found that the use of force by the officer in each of the three arrests was unnecessary and excessive, and made specific recommendations in relation to training and governance.

Police accept these findings and work to implement the IPCA’s recommendations is under way.

Police have confirmed that head control techniques are not part of the Initial Training Curriculum at the Royal New Zealand Police College (RNZPC), and that the technique used in these three arrests is not taught as part of Police Integrated Tactical Training (PITT).

The RNZPC will prioritise a review of the Defensive Tactics Curriculum training module, to ensure all modules remain fit for purpose.

The RNZPC is also working to ensure the use of governance forums across all training, to provide assurance that training delivery is consistent across all forms of training and meets quality assurance standards.

In addition, the RNZPC will look to create an advisory committee consisting of subject matter experts and key stakeholders, focused on ensuring best practice and national consistency of defensive tactics training. This advisory committee will work to understand and document the risks of specific defence tactics, and determine the appropriate approach and mechanisms to mitigate any risks identified.

Investigation seven:

This investigation related to use of force by an officer after a protester reached inside his body armour.

The IPCA found the officer was entitled to use force to defend himself in the circumstances as he believed them to be, however striking the woman in the face was not reasonable as he could have struck down on her arm to remove her hand from underneath his body armour.

The officer in this instance was in the front line of Police, facing a crowd of hostile protesters.

The officers were in “single belt grip formation” – that is, the officer concerned was holding on to the belt of the officer to his right, with the officer to his left holding onto his belt, so that officers created an uninterrupted line.

The officer has advised this left him with only his left arm – his non-dominant arm – to defend himself when he felt the protester reach inside his body armour, and the compact nature of the Police line meant any movement to block the woman’s arm was impractical, as well as leaving his front exposed to possible further assault.

Investigation eight:

This incident occurred on 22 February, when officers were supporting the movement of concrete bollards.

Police had begun to push protesters back to allow officers to move away from the area, after a car was driven at a line of officers and an officer was shoulder-charged to the ground.

The complaint to the IPCA concerned three uses of force against a man who was not complying with Police instructions to move away and fall back.

The IPCA found that an officer’s first and second use of force (reaching through the Police line and striking the man in his head; and reaching through the Police line and making contact with the man’s eye area) were unlawful, while a third use of force was in self-defence, reasonable and proportionate.

The officer involved has advised he was extremely concerned for the safety of himself and his staff, given the events that had already unfolded that morning.

He believed that the man was encouraging others to obstruct police, needed to be arrested, and was actively resisting arrest.

Investigation 13:

This investigation related to an incident on 2 March where an officer knocked a phone from a woman’s hand and pushed her to the ground, then used force against a man who came to assist the woman.

The IPCA found there was no justification for officers to knock the phone from the woman’s hand or push her to the ground.

Police accept that knocking the woman’s phone from her hand and pushing her to the ground was an unnecessary and excessive use of force.

Police have apologised to the woman for this.

In relation to the use of force against the man who came to assist the woman, the IPCA found that while some force was certainly justified, two punches to the head in quick succession were an excessive use of force.

The officer concerned has advised he acted in defence of his colleague, who he believed had been assaulted by the man.

The officer assessed the risk presented by the man and other protesters in the area as high.

The officer was not in a position to arrest the man, due to having to hold other protesters back, and he took the action he felt was commensurate with the threat to himself and his fellow officers.

Investigation 14:

This investigation concerned the use of fire extinguishers against three people standing on a column on Parliament grounds on 2 March.

The IPCA found the officer’s use of the fire extinguisher for a short period was in self-defence and justified, however he and other officers were not justified in further spraying the people after they had turned their backs and were trying to climb down from the column.

As noted by the IPCA, the officer had seen events unfold and deteriorate throughout the day on 2 March.

He had been assaulted by projectiles being thrown at him earlier in the day and had no helmet, other headgear or shield.

The officer has advised he believed that one of the people on the column had a black metal pole which could be used as a weapon against him or his fellow officers.

The officer acted to protect himself and his colleagues by preventing the man throwing or otherwise using the pole as a weapon to assault Police.

Investigation 17:

This investigation related to the impounding of and damage to a car, which had been parked at the bus terminal.

On 2 March, Police deflated two tyres on this car and a number of other vehicles parked in the vicinity of Parliament, to prevent vehicles from being driven and used as weapons against Police while they were still in the area around Parliament.

Police also smashed three windows in the car.

The IPCA found that while it was reasonable for Police to deflate the car’s tyres, there was no reason to smash the windows.

Officers responding to the riot around Parliament on 2 March have advised the car windows were smashed as they were tinted and officers could not see whether there was anyone in the car. This was done as officers advanced on rioters to clear Parliament grounds, when officers had to ensure there was nobody behind their line as they advanced.

In relation to the impounding of the car, the IPCA found it was unreasonable of Police to not allow the owner to retrieve her belongings from the car on 4 March, and to not properly assess whether the car could be released to the owner that day.

The IPCA also found Police should have made further attempts to contact the owner before putting the car out on a public road.

Police accept these findings and has apologised to the owner.

As with all major events, there are lessons to be learned. Police continue to improve our practice based on the events that occurred during the protest and occupation of Parliament.

 

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