The Independent Police Conduct Authority has found that a number of shortcomings and delays with a Police investigation gave the appearance that two off-duty Police officers had received favourable treatment.
On the evening of 21 January 2016, four occupants of an SUV, including the two off-duty Christchurch officers, were stopped driving slowly along a public road that ran through a local farmer’s land near Omakau in Central Otago. One of the occupants had been shining a spotlight from the SUV into the farmer’s paddock. The farmer called Police.
The Authority received four separate complaints about the delay by Police in investigating and deciding whether to lay charges against the two off-duty officers. The complaints alleged that Police were treating the off-duty officers more favourably than members of the public.
The Authority has found that the investigating officers should have conducted a more thorough scene examination. The officers did not follow standard investigative procedure or ensure that they properly understood the law on unlawful hunting. This increased the risk that the public would perceive that a conflict existed.
In the end, the protracted investigation and long periods of inaction gave the impression that Police were treating the off-duty officers favourably.
Ultimately, however, the Authority has found that the decision not to prosecute the two off-duty officers was reasonable and justifiable on public interest grounds. It also found that the two off-duty officers should have received formal warnings.
Authority Chair, Judge Colin Doherty, said, “The Police investigation into the alleged offending on the farmer’s land was unnecessarily protracted, and only served to support the growing belief that the matter was being ‘covered up’.
“This case demonstrates the importance of identifying incidents that are likely to present a perception of bias, and proactively managing them. This involves taking extra care to investigate the matter thoroughly. It also requires that the matter be resolved promptly, and that communication with complainants is clear and accurate."