Police handling of 'out of control' parties investigated

03:36, Aug 28 2014
Jakob Christie
UNNECESSARY: The review found police used "excessive force" when an officer struck Jakob Christie with a baton at a Wellington housewarming in 2009, breaking his neck.

Partygoers and frustrated neighbours take note - a watchdog's review into how police handle ''out of control'' gatherings has brought clarification of police powers.

Police handling of responses to eight specific parties around the country over the past five years has been scrutinised by the Independent Police Conduct Authority. 

Drunks, gatecrashers, violence towards police, neighbours who want parties shut down, and the rights of partygoers who were behaving themselves were all issues canvassed in the review released today.

Police have accepted the report - saying it had clarified what they can and can't legally do. 

The IPCA had received a growing number of complaints around police handling of parties.

The authority, chaired by Judge Sir David Carruthers, addressed eight cases that occurred between July 2009 and June 2013 that attracted complaints about police actions.


The IPCA found that though cops themselves were at times abused when trying to break up parties - some officers ''misunderstood their legal powers'' and exceeded their authority.

It also noted police were inclined to shut down parties rather than target specific offenders and that their presence sometimes aggravated revellers, which led to heightened aggression from both sides.

"The review found that police usually decided to close down parties due to complaints of fighting or disorder, and they regularly encountered verbal abuse and bottle-throwing from partygoers," Carruthers said.

"The authority recognises that police are often confronted with difficult situations when called to deal with noisy and out of control parties in suburban areas," Sir David said.

"These parties are typically attended by a large number of intoxicated young people, and it is common for fights to break out and for property damage to occur."

Acting assistant commissioner of operations Superintendent Sam Hoyle said police had been working with the IPCA to ensure there was clearer understanding of police powers.

Police were working on engaging with party organisers before an event to ensure events ran without incident.

He emphasised police were often called for help by concerned property owners, neighbours or party-goers themselves.

''This reinforces the important responsibility that party organisers, attendees, parents and peers must also share in ensuring the behaviour during these events is safe and appropriate." 


Among the IPCA's highlighted cases is a now-notorious 2009 Wellington housewarming.

Last October, the IPCA released a damning report about the case of then 19-year-old Jakob Christie whose neck was broken when a police officer struck him with a baton while clearing people from a Khandallah party.

The IPCA found that police used unlawful ''excessive'' force against Christie.

Other parties highlighted in today's report included complaints from Christchurch partygoers who felt that use of pepper spray was excessive. 

At another Christchurch party where revellers had started a bonfire and thrown bottles at police, a man complained he was pushed over by an officer's shield when he tried to cross their skirmish line.

In another incident in South Auckland, the IPCA received a complaint of excessive force in relation to police arresting a woman who had threatened a cop with a piece of a fence.


In light of the review and earlier investigations by the IPCA police have developed a new public order policing policy which was implemented from December 2013.

- A ''breach of the peace'' offence is not enough for police to have power to enter a private property. However they can remove partygoers for disorderly behaviour or unlawful assembly, and arrest them for causing serious property damage or injury. Offending on the streets does not entitle police to enter the property to clear everyone else out.

-Where complaints are received about a noisy gathering, police are allowed to enter and remove or disable stereo equipment - but that does not give them authority to go onto the property with the purpose of ejecting party goers.

-Police assisting fire fighters can enter a property and remove people - but only if they genuinely believe that the fire poses a danger to them or they are obstructing emergency workers from dealing with the fire - they cannot shut down a party because there is a bonfire.

-If the owner or occupier of a property wants a party closed down the revellers become trespassers and police can seek permission to remove them.

-Police may enter a property if they are pursuing someone for arrest or to find a suspect. They may use force if necessary and eject people to stop an offence.

-Police are entitled to defend themselves with force - but not excessive.

The Dominion Post