The Independent Police Conduct Authority has found that Police need to establish clear supervision expectations for supervisors if they are expected to manage officers’ behaviour while off-duty.
The Authority independently investigated or oversaw the Police investigation into four incidents that occurred in 2019 when officers behaved inappropriately while off-duty and drinking alcohol. The officers were representing New Zealand Police in some capacity at the time. Police officers must comply with the Police Code of Conduct at all times.
All four incidents resulted in criminal investigations. In three of the cases, charges were laid as a direct result of the behaviour identified. We have delayed finalising and publishing this report until all criminal proceedings were concluded.
One of these incidents involved the off-duty behaviour of officers from Tāmaki Makaurau deployed to police the Waitangi commemorations. Police investigating a separate, serious incident that occurred later that night became concerned about off-duty behaviour captured on motel CCTV footage and notified the Authority.
Our investigation found that, while the officers were entitled to drink alcohol while off-duty, the level of consumption clearly led to a general lack of professionalism and respect for the public-facing environment and the context of the deployment. There were several examples of unprofessional and inappropriate language and behaviour that evening, including the use of an improvised vessel as part of a drinking challenge, and an officer exposing his genitals to his colleagues. These actions negatively affected Police’s reputation.
However, the nature of the deployment meant that the Northland District leadership should have better communicated what was appropriate during off-duty hours. The boundaries of what was appropriate were left ambiguous and were badly misinterpreted by the supervising sergeants and constables.
The supervising sergeants accept that some of the behaviour that evening was unacceptable and unprofessional, but say that it was not clear what, if any, authority they could exert over the constables or each other to regulate behaviour while off-duty.
We also considered the Police investigation into this incident and found some inconsistencies. It was unfair that only the sergeants were investigated and sanctioned for the behaviour when the Code of Conduct emphasises self-responsibility and accountability for all officers.
We found that the other three incidents, all linked to Police-sponsored sports events, were appropriately resolved.
Authority Chair, Judge Colin Doherty said: “While all four incidents include abuse of alcohol, it would be inappropriate to extrapolate general trends about off-duty behaviour and consumption of alcohol within Police from such a small sample.
However, these incidents illustrate that public trust and confidence in Police is vulnerable in different instances when Police officers are off-duty but still represent Police in some way.
Police need to establish general behaviour and supervision expectations for when officers are deployed in an operation but are off-duty between shifts. There are a range of circumstances where the line between private activities and public scrutiny is blurred. The current uncertainty about expectations and responsibilities, and how to manage staff when things go awry, not only places an unfair burden on sergeants and senior sergeants but puts Police’s reputation at risk.”