Off-duty police should have been warned over poaching incident - IPCA
Two senior police officers allegedly caught poaching on private land should have received formal warnings, the Independent Police Complaints Authority (IPCA) has found.
Four people, including the two off-duty police officers, were caught shining a spotlight into a paddock near Omakau, in Central Otago on January 20, 2016.
The IPCA did not name the officers, referring to them as officers A and D, however Stuff has previously named the pair as Senior Constable Gary Donnelly, a dog handler, and Senior Constable Dougal Adams, a scene of crime officer, both based in Christchurch.
The landowner told the IPCA the area was "known for poachers" and he had previously caught poachers, including one who was "through the court within two weeks".
The farmer and his neighbour, who spotted the hunting party, approached the group, with the driver advising he was an off-duty police officer.
He said he was looking for deer to show a female passenger, and the farmer recognised the driver as a person who owned a local holiday home.
Local police were called to investigate, with one of the officers called later telling the IPCA: "I thought this was above my pay scale."
The two off-duty officers said they were returning from a Department of Conservation block, which they had a permit to be on.
No animal carcasses or ammunition were found, and no shots were heard in the area.
One of the investigating officers admitted to the IPCA that he should have taken notes and photographs of the scene and the firearms, taken a statement from all four occupants, and seized their firearms and other hunting equipment.
Senior officers, including the Southern District commander, were advised there was a growing interest in the matter, including allegations police were not investigating their own.
The IPCA received four complaints about the police's delay in deciding whether to lay charges against the officers, alleging they were treated more favourably than members of the public.
Judge Colin Doherty said in the IPCA's decision, released on Thursday, that while there was no evidence the attending police officers knew each other, the incident involved a "perceived conflict of interest", as off-duty police officers were involved.
"The protracted investigation and the long periods of inaction gave the impression that police were treating their officers differently from members of the public, and looking for a reason not to take action," he said.
The IPCA concluded the decision not to prosecute two officers was reasonable and justifiable based on public interest grounds, but they should "at least have received formal warnings".
Southern police commander Superintendent Paul Basham acknowledged the depth of feeling across the Central Otago community regarding illegal hunting which, to some extent, had resulted from the inconsistency in how police responded to such incidents in the past.
A district-wide review was under way, with a working group established to provide guidance to staff.
Canterbury police commander John Price said the off-duty Canterbury officers had been through an employment investigation, but he could not provide further details for privacy reasons.