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Authority urges continued momentum for change in abuse investigations

17 February 2011 - The Independent Police Conduct Authority is urging Police to continue the momentum for positive change in child abuse investigations, after finding serious failures in the Wairarapa and elsewhere.

The Authority has released Part II of its Inquiry into Police Conduct, Practices, Policies and Procedures Relating to the Investigation of Child Abuse.

Part I of the Inquiry was released in May 2010, partway through the inquiry that had been sparked by the discovery of a backlog of more than 100 child abuse files in which there had been little or no progress. It made 34 specific recommendations for immediate improvements to Police systems. The Police responded positively, and Commissioner Howard Broad established a Child Protection Implementation Project Team that has since led substantial changes to Police policies, practices, and procedures.

Part II of the Inquiry has focused on the nature of, and reasons for, the failures which occurred in the investigation of child abuse in the Wairarapa and elsewhere, and it also examined the response of Police National Headquarters (PNHQ) and the response by Districts. The report deals with the systemic issues behind the failures, and notes that Police employment processes remain ongoing for some of the individual officers involved.

Under the Independent Police Conduct Authority Act 1988, the Authority is empowered to determine whether any Police act or failure to act was contrary to law, unreasonable, unjustified, unfair or undesirable.

The Authority Chair, Justice Lowell Goddard, said the scale of the inquiry had been unprecedented for the Authority.

“The Authority has concluded there were serious failures in the Police investigation of child abuse, which must never be repeated. However in the course of its inquiry the Authority also heard from many dedicated and committed Police officers, and is confident that they are representative of the majority of officers involved in child abuse investigations,” said Justice Goddard.

“It is imperative that child abuse cases must be reported to Police. The public can have every confidence that Police are committed to ensuring a consistently high standard of service in the investigation of child abuse,” said Justice Goddard.

“It is essential that the momentum for positive change resulting from this Inquiry is not lost. In addition to the 34 recommendations in the Part I report, the Authority recommends that the Child Protection Implementation Project Team have its mandate extended for at least one year, to continue overseeing the response to the Authority’s inquiry,” said Justice Goddard.


SUMMARY OF CONCLUSIONS AND FINDINGS

Chapter 2 – Wairarapa Area prior to 2006

Resourcing in the Wairarapa Area was identified as an issue by Police staff prior to 2006. By 2005 Detective Suzanne Mackle, based in the Masterton CIB Office, was holding 95 child abuse investigation files.

Detective Mackle’s file holding was unmanageable and excessive.  There was no realistic prospect of Detective Mackle investigating 95 child abuse files in a timely manner without significant assistance over an extended period of time.  The fact that this number of files were able to accumulate demonstrates there was insufficient investigative resource to cope with demand.

It was undesirable that this level of file holdings was permitted to occur.

Chapter 3 – Wellington District: March 2006-July 2006

This backlog of files which had been permitted to accumulate represented a significant failure in supervision systems in the Wairarapa Area, and was undesirable.

In addition, there was no meaningful audit and assurance program which operated to identify the scale of the problems and remedy them at a district level, and again, this was undesirable.

By April 2006 Detective Mackle identified that her file holding had accumulated to a level where she held approximately 120 child abuse investigation files.

In response to an email sent by Detective Mackle on 28 April 2006 Detective Inspector Harry Quinn requested an assessment of child abuse investigation files held in the Wairarapa Area by Detective Sergeant Tusha Penny.  This action was appropriate.

Detective Sergeant Penny’s report in response to Detective Inspector Quinn’s request was a careful and considered piece of work that clearly identified a substantial backlog of child abuse investigation files in the Masterton office.

Direction was given from both Wellington District and Wairarapa Area management level to implement steps to address the backlog.  As at July 2006, it appeared that action had finally begun in response to the backlog of child abuse investigation files in the Wairarapa Area.

Chapter 4 – Wellington District: August 2006-2008

On three separate occasions during August 2006 the Officer in Charge of Masterton CIB, Detective Sergeant Mark McHattie, advised the Wairarapa Area Commander that the child abuse investigation files for the area amounted to a total of 76 files.  This represented a significant reduction in file numbers relative to the conclusions of the Penny report and Detective Sergeant McHattie’s own advice in June 2006 that Detective Mackle was by then holding 142 files.

On 31 August 2006, Detective Sergeant McHattie advised that the number of child abuse investigation files held in the Wairarapa had reduced to 57 files.  On 4 September 2006 the Detective Sergeant further advised that the file holdings had reduced even further and that the total number was now 29 files.

An audit process carried out in 2008 by Detective Inspector Shane Cotter as part of Operation Hope, known as the “10 Year Audit”, identified that 46 files had been filed (closed) during the months of August and September 2006.  The majority of those files had been filed during a two-day period, 31 August and 1 September 2006.  Detective Inspector Cotter found that 33 of these files were “filed incorrectly” or “inappropriately resolved” during that two-day period.

The 10 Year Audit confirmed the information provided in the Penny Report.  By that time there had been a further delay of over two years on the files which had been incorrectly filed during the months of August and September 2006.  The lack of timely and professional service was undesirable, unjustified and unfair to the child victims.  As the Commissioner has appropriately acknowledged, this was “a significant service failure”.

Wairarapa Area and Wellington District management considered that the backlog of files in the Wairarapa Area had been resolved in September 2006 as a result of the assurances given by Detective Sergeant McHattie.  Detective Inspector Cotter’s findings in the 10 Year Audit demonstrate the backlog was not resolved.

The reduction of files reported by Detective Sergeant McHattie was dramatic when set against the information provided in the Penny Report and other available information.

An independent check involving the random sampling of files should have been carried out following Detective Sergeant McHattie’s email of 4 September 2006.  This should have been done as part of the supervision of the Masterton CIB and as part of District audit and assurance processes.

As set out in the introduction to this report, Police employment procedures arising from these events are ongoing.  The focus of the Authority’s Inquiry is on the underlying systemic issues: Police practices, policies and procedures generally.

The Authority finds that the supervision systems in the Wairarapa Area failed and that Wellington District did not have an audit and assurance program which included random sampling of files, either as part of routine audit and assurance processes or in response to high risk events.  The absence of such systems was undesirable and unjustified and contributed to unreasonable delays on a number of child abuse investigation files later addressed by Operation Hope.

The backlog of files in the Wairarapa Area was not discussed at meetings of the Wellington District senior management team during the crucial months of June 2006 to September 2006.  Had it been, a greater level of assurance may have been sought that the backlog had been properly resolved.  The failure to ensure that a high risk situation of this kind was not on the agenda as a formal item at meetings of the Wellington District senior management team was undesirable.

Operation Hope assessed approximately 550 cases, which resulted in at least 41 prosecutions of child abusers and the conviction of a number of individuals, many of whom have received lengthy custodial sentences. These convictions underpin that many of the child abuse complaints reviewed by the Operation Hope team, despite being historic in nature, were capable of successful prosecution and conviction.

The delays in the investigation by Police of complaints of child abuse were a significant service failure and were both unjustified and unreasonable.

Chapter 5 – Involvement of Police National Headquarters 

Senior Police management at Police National Headquarters, up to Deputy Commissioner level, were aware of the backlog of files in the Wairarapa in 2006, and had been provided with Detective Mackle’s email and Detective Sergeant Penny’s report. The senior management advised the Authority that they expected the backlog to have been dealt with by Wellington District, subject to any request made for external assistance.

No request for external assistance was made by Wellington District, in contrast to steps being taken at about the same time by Counties Manukau District to deal with a backlog of child abuse investigation files which had accrued in that district.  Rather than requesting assistance, the information provided by Wellington District to Police National Headquarters on 31 August 2006, was to the effect that the workload in the Wairarapa Area was under control.  Similarly, the Wairarapa Area Commander was reported in the Wairarapa Times-Age on 7 September 2006 as stating that the area had only “25 to 30 live files”.

This information was incorrect, and as a result Wellington District failed to meet the minimum standards of service that Police National Headquarters rightly requires should be met.  In order to meet its responsibilities, Headquarters must ensure minimum standards of service are met by districts, and that robust auditing processes involving random sampling of files is carried out, both as a matter of routine and as part of the response to identified risks such as the backlog of files in the Wairarapa.

Audit processes of this kind were not set as a mandatory requirement by Police National Headquarters in 2006 and that omission was undesirable.

In August 2006 Police National Headquarters was advised by the Police Association that it was preparing an article pointing to problems in the investigation of child abuse files in various parts of New Zealand.  Headquarters responded to this information from the Police Association by, inter alia, conducting a national survey of child abuse investigations in all Police districts.

The information received from districts, while confirming the pressure of increasing workloads on front line staff and inconsistencies in file management practices, provided assurances that protocols were complied with and that there were no districts which were overburdened with unallocated files.

This Inquiry has highlighted the difficulty in relying solely on information provided by districts.  Had audit and assurance processes involving random sampling of files been in place in 2006, Police would have had the opportunity to test the information reported by districts against objective data gathered as part of audit and assurance processes.  The absence of random sampling of files as part of audit and assurance policy is undesirable.

Police National Headquarters established a CAT (Child Abuse Team) Managers Working Group following publication of the Police Association article in 2006, subsequent attendance of Police management at a CAT managers conference in 2006, and as a result of information received from districts in the national survey.

The Working Group identified, albeit in a preliminary way, a number of positive initiatives which the Authority considers would have improved the service provided by Police in the investigation of child abuse had they been developed and implemented.

Unfortunately, the Working Group met only once and was not reconvened.  The failure to ensure the Working Group reconvened and continued its work in 2007 was undesirable and should not have been allowed to occur.  The consequence is that initiatives which would have ensured greater consistency in the investigation of child abuse files nationally were not developed until after the Authority reported on Part I of its Inquiry.

Chapter 6 – Review of Police Districts “At Risk” Files

The Authority is satisfied Police have undertaken a thorough audit of child abuse files nationwide, using all tools reasonably available to them through the district reviews conducted as part of Operation Scope.

The results of the district reviews demonstrate that delays and other problems in the investigation of child abuse files were not confined to the Wairarapa, although nowhere else was the problem so acute.

The Authority has been advised that Police commenced a total of 18 Code of Conduct Investigations arising out of Operation Hope and Operation Scope.  Five employees have been cleared of any misconduct and have been dealt with through informal processes.

Six more investigations have been completed, and Police are awaiting the completion of seven further.

At the completion of all investigations, decisions will be made by the National Disciplinary Committee.

Police have further advised the Authority that 67 employees are subject to Informal Intervention arising out of Operation Hope and Operation Scope.

Prompt action has been taken by all districts to remedy the shortcomings identified on all of the files identified through the district reviews.

The delays and other failures identified by Operation Scope demonstrate that victims of child abuse were not receiving a consistent standard of service from Police throughout the country.

However, if the changes to practices, policies and procedures proposed as part of the Police response are fully implemented, the Authority is confident this will minimise the risk of similar failures occurring in the future.

Chapter 7 – Review of Police Districts Practice, Policy, and Procedure

As a result of the Authority’s Inquiry, significant changes and improvements are being undertaken in all Police districts to practices, policies and procedures at a district level in relation to the investigation of child abuse files.

These relate to both specific areas of investigation, such as victim contact and evidential interviewing, and to more general areas such as case management and district structures.

These general areas have a critical bearing on the quality of investigations and the ability of Police management to properly supervise and monitor the quality of investigations.

Training in the use of NIA as part of case management has been made available as a priority to child abuse investigators in all districts.  In addition, each district will benefit from the appointment of a senior officer with responsibility for oversight for child abuse investigations throughout the district.

If the improvements referred to in this chapter and the following chapter are fully implemented by districts and Police National Headquarters, a consistently high standard of service is achievable for all victims of child abuse throughout the country.

Chapter 8 – Response of Police National Headquarters

As a result of the Authority’s Inquiry, significant and comprehensive changes and improvements are being undertaken by Police National Headquarters to practices, policies and procedures in relation to the investigation of child abuse.

In particular, Police National Headquarters is proposing improvement to the management of child abuse investigations to promote public confidence in the integrity of the processes, by implementing all 34 of the Authority’s recommendations in the Part I Report.

If the changes and improvements identified by Police in response to the Authority’s Inquiry are fully implemented and embedded, both at a district and national level, a consistently high standard of service is achievable for all victims of child abuse throughout the country.

The Child Protection Implementation Project Team has played a lead role in the Police response to the Authority’s Part I Report.  The team contains a number of subject matter experts and was set up at Commissioner Broad’s direction and enjoys his full support.  The team has a role not just in setting the minimum standards identified in the Part I Report, but in implementing and embedding the practices, policies and procedures required to ensure minimum standards are met nationally and are sustainable.

The Authority considers it crucial to the success of the Child Protection Implementation Project Team that it, or at least a sub-group of it, has an ongoing mandate for at least one year while the policies, practices and procedures resulting from its work are fully implemented and embedded by the Police.  In addition to the 34 recommendations made in the Part I Report, the Authority makes one further recommendation to the Commissioner of Police.

Recommendation:

The Child Protection Implementation Project Team, or a sub-group of that team, should be given an ongoing mandate for a further period of at least one year to oversee the implementation of changes to Police practices, policies and procedures arising out of its work, and to report back to the Police Executive Committee.

 


 

 

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