Complaints against southern police rise

NEIL RATLEY
Last updated 05:00 06/03/2014

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Twenty-four southern police officers were disciplined as a result of 130 complaints against the district's police last financial year.

Figures released under the Official Information Act to The Southland Times show complaints against southern police are on the rise.

There were 130 formal complaints made against southern district police in the year to June 30. This compared to 110 and 98 formal complaints in the previous two years respectively.

The southern district includes the Southland area, Dunedin area and Otago rural. The allegations against southern police staff in the last year included the use of force, harassment/bullying/discrimination, disgraceful behaviour and off duty violence.

The most common allegations included attitude/behaviour (15), inadequate service (5) and failure to investigate (5).

Action taken can range from providing additional training and warnings through to dismissal.

Of the 24 officers disciplined, none were dismissed or suspended but one officer resigned during the process. The action taken included counselling (1), first warning (1), performance management (1), policy and procedure (2), professional conversation (13), second warning (2), training (2) and other (1).

Southern district commander Superintendent Andrew Coster said it was a concern that the number of formal complaints against southern police had increased in each of the past three years.

While police took all complaints very seriously, most of the complaints were at a low level, he said.

A number of factors could have led to the increase in complaints including the ability to make complaints online, he said.

There had not been any serious complaints resulting in court appearances for police officers in the past three years.

However, police agreed to pay a Southland farmer $14,000 in damages and costs after armed officers entered his property in 2012 without permission and, in a resulting tussle, pepper-sprayed him, punched him in the face and Tasered him while he was handcuffed.

Corey Vreugdenhil's complaint about the police handling of the matter was reported to the IPCA.

The investigator concluded the attending constables technically had failed to leave the address when directed to.

But the investigator also added the attending officers were acting in good faith and had the honest belief that their actions were justified and within the law.

A complaint was also made relating to the initial police action surrounding the operation to find Italian canoeist Luca Ruffato in Te Anau in December 2012.

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Mr Ruffato was found dead in Brod Bay after he went missing while canoeing on Lake Te Anau on December 22.

The complaint - details of which police and the IPCA would not release - was received by the IPCA and was referred to police to investigate. The authority received, reviewed and accepted the police findings.

Last week it was revealed a police communicator was disciplined after failing to follow policy and procedure that may have prevented a serious truck crash in Southland.

On Monday, it was reported a Queenstown constable was charged with offensive language following an internal police investigation surrounding an incident in a taxi.

The number of formal complaints rose in the Southland area from 23 to 30 during the three years and from 39 to 62 in the Dunedin Area for the same period. Complaints in Otago Rural remained the same at 28.

A formal complaint is recorded when a statement is taken from a person who has complained about the actions of a police officer.

This is forwarded from the police to the Independent Police Conduct Authority to review. Complainants can also contact the IPCA directly with a formal complaint.

In less serious investigations complaints are sometimes referred back to police and an independent investigator appointed.

 

Complaints

Southern District (Officers disciplined in brackets)

2012-13: 130 (24)

2011-12: 110 (28)

2010-11: 98 (28) 

 

- The Southland Times

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