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Police detention was unlawful but reasonable in the circumstances

20 November 2018

The Independent Police Conduct Authority has found that while Police acted unlawfully in October 2017 when they detained a Queenstown man for a mental health assessment, their actions were reasonable in the circumstances.

The man had called "Lifeline Aotearoa 24/7" and disclosed a suicide attempt, then abruptly ended the call. Lifeline contacted Police, who went to Mr X's address to check on his welfare. The man was distressed and agitated, and officers decided that it was not safe to leave him alone until he had been seen by mental health professionals.

Police contacted Queenstown mental health services shortly before midnight, and were referred to mental health services in Invercargill. Police took the man to the Queenstown Police Station to await the arrival of the Invercargill mental health services staff.

Invercargill mental health staff did not arrive in Queenstown until 7 hours later. They assessed the man and authorised his release.

The Authority found that Police did not have legal authority to take the man into custody, or to detain him at the Police station overnight. However Police took steps to ensure the man's immediate safety, and the delay in obtaining a mental health assessment was beyond Police control.

The Authority noted that mental health legislation appears to assume that mental health workers will be the primary responder to people in crisis, with Police assisting when necessary. In reality, Police are often the sole responder and must deal with distressed and volatile people.

Judge Colin Doherty, Authority Chair, said that "incidents such as this are commonplace, and demonstrate the real difficulties confronted by Police when dealing with those experiencing a mental health crisis. Police often feel compelled to act unlawfully in order to protect the distressed individual and the wider public, and the Authority does not blame them for doing so."

The details of this case led the Authority to find that, while Police acted unlawfully in detaining the man, they acted reasonably in the circumstances.

Public Report
Police detention of a man in Queenstown (PDF 508 KB)


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