Imperfect policing but no scandal

Last updated 05:00 08/04/2014

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OPINION: Editorial: Any story headlined "Police apologise to city burglar" was going to draw a lot of attention, which is not to say the whole world is now rushing to console Tay St burglar Blair Donal Taylor.

In 2011 he spent an estimated 50 seconds with a police dog ungently attached to his upper arm.

It's the duration of that embrace that the Independent Police Conduct Authority has now found unjustified.

You can bet those 50 seconds didn't pass quickly or agreeably.

Taylor will receive scant sympathy. He was committing a crime, had been drunk and unco-operative (later being convicted not only of burglary, but of resisting arrest) and, as police point out, any decision to employ force, be it via a dog or otherwise, is a judgment call.

From all this, it would appear the subsequent police apology and assurance that a lesson had been learned was sufficient.

On balance, that's about right. But it's not simply a case of a bite that went on a bit long.

Even though the authority found itself "unable to reach a clear conclusion" that the initial deployment (nice technical word for it) of the dog was unjustified, this should not be characterised as meaning that it rested easy about the circumstances in which the dog was released in the first place.

In fact, it found that the actions of several of the officers didn't comply with police policies. Or the law.

The dog handler did come in for criticism. He told the authority that when he arrived at the address he saw Taylor inside, and that he appeared to be trying to conceal a metal object. The officer believed this to be a knife.

Taylor decamped several minutes later, but was soon entangled with other officers, ardently resisting their instructions, then attempts, to get him on the ground.

That's the point where the dog handler released the dog.

The authority found there had been enough staff present to subdue and restrain Taylor without the dog being used.

The evidence had not supported the handler's view that the officers were at risk and he was negligent in not having warned other police of his belief Taylor had a knife.

As it happens, Taylor had a small ceramic ornament. The authority found the handler had released the dog without an adequate appreciation of the situation; his actions were premature and excessive and were the likely catalyst for the escalation of the incident.

This is not a scandal. But it's fair to say that on April 2, 2011 neither the police nor the burglar had a good day at work.

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Occasionally police dog are misused or do misbehave.

Last November Nelson man Kyle McArtney had been rushing towards bushes, busting to go to the toilet, when a dog attacked him and did not respond to command to let him go.

Far more often, however, the dogs do fine, disciplined work. In February one was forced into early retirement after a Blenheim teenager throttled him and tried to cut his throat, and in October a dog was stabbed by a fleeing offender near Whangarei.

So as things stand, police dogs are still a valuable police option. And still more sinned against than sinning.

 

- The Southland Times

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