The Independent Police Conduct Authority has today released its review of the policing of the protest and occupation at Parliament in February and March 2022. Overall, the Authority found that Police served the public of New Zealand well in dealing with this difficult and complex set of events.
“Frontline officers faced extreme provocation and violent behaviour from some of the protesters, and a level of public disorder rarely seen in New Zealand. In the face of that, almost all Police officers involved exercised professionalism and restraint in their dealings with the protesters. It is commendable that Police were able to end the illegal occupation of Parliament grounds on 2 March 2022 with as few injuries and as little damage to property as they did”, said Authority Chair, Judge Colin Doherty.
The review looks at Police’s initial response to the impending protest from the time when they became aware of the likely vehicle convoy from both ends of the country to Parliament, through to the final Police operation on 2 March 2022 to clear the grounds of Parliament, Victoria University campus, St Paul’s Cathedral and surrounding streets.
“The review naturally has a focus on areas where Police practice fell short of the ideal and on lessons that can be learned for the future”, said Judge Doherty. “This should not be interpreted as finding that Police failed in their policing of the protest and occupation. Overall, they served the public of New Zealand well”.
The Authority found that Police Intelligence staff provided very good information about the developing protest environment and communicated it to a wide range of Police decision-makers in advance of the protest, which commenced on 8 February 2022. However, in response to that information Police did not sufficiently consider the particular risks posed by this event, especially in the light of disruption reported from similar recent convoys in Australia and Canada. They should have consulted Wellington City Council well before the arrival of the convoy about whether there was a need for a traffic management plan, and prepared and disseminated a detailed operation plan. However, doing that would not necessarily have resulted in any additional action (for example, the closing of roads around Parliament). Nor would it necessarily have changed the path of the protest.
After several hundred protesters had set up tents and structures on Parliament grounds and Victoria University’s Pipitea campus on 8 February 2022, the Speaker closed Parliament grounds and the protesters became trespassers. Police made the decision on the night of 9 February to take action the next day to end the occupation.
The Authority has found that, while this decision was made following a discussion between the Commissioner, the Speaker, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Attorney General, there was no undue political interference and the Commissioner reached his own independent view on the matter.
During the Police operation on 10 February, officers tried to remove protesters from Parliament grounds, arresting 108 people in the process. Police failed in their attempt and withdrew at about 4.40pm. The Authority has found that:
Although the operation was unlikely to succeed, that does not mean it was unjustified. It demonstrated that Police were confronted with a difficult situation and that easy options to end the occupation at that time were not available. It therefore bought Police time to plan for the eventual (and successful) operation on 2 March.
From 11 February 2022, Police aimed to contain the protest and maintain law and order while planning for a larger operation to end the illegal occupation. This was the right approach. It was a major logistical exercise to bring the occupation to an end, and Police had neither the capacity nor the capability to do that quickly; they needed time to plan and to marshal the required resources.
However, the demands of day-to-day policing and staff shortages from COVID-19 made it difficult for Wellington District Police to do the necessary planning, although they received assistance from 15 February when a national operation was established at Police National Headquarters. The Authority has found that a more flexible process for providing support to District should have been in place.
During this time Police were working on developing a strategy for removing protesters’ vehicles that were blocking the streets around Parliament and restoring traffic flow. They did not have the capacity to do this on their own, and their attempts to obtain support from tow operators were largely unsuccessful. They managed to tow only a few vehicles over this period as a result.
But Police did successfully use concrete bollards to contain and then shrink the occupation footprint, which contributed to the success of the 2 March operation.
Police began their final operation to end the occupation on the morning of 2 March 2022. They encountered strong resistance from the protest group, and during the afternoon some protesters started fires among the tents. Substantial and sustained violence was directed at Police. This included throwing a Molotov cocktail, bricks, paving stones, fireworks, poles, bottles, a knife and other projectiles. By late in the day the protest had degenerated into a riot. At about 6pm a car was used to attack a Police line on Lambton Quay.
In the face of this extreme provocation, while there were some isolated incidents of potentially excessive reactive force by Police, they generally acted professionally and with remarkable restraint. The Authority found that all the tactics Police used to defend both themselves and others on 2 March were justified in the circumstances. These included skirmish lines, shields, pushing and striking, pepper spray, batons, weapons of opportunity (fire extinguishers, fire hoses and paving bricks), sponge rounds and deflating vehicle tyres. Police were also justified in carrying firearms (though none were used on the day).
The Authority has therefore found that the Police operation on 2 March 2022 to clear the grounds of Parliament, the Victoria University campus, the Cathedral and the surrounding streets was conducted professionally and successfully. However, the Authority did identify a number of deficiencies:
The protest and occupation exposed the ineffectiveness of some current laws. The Authority identified a number of areas where the current law is not fit-for-purpose for the mass public disorder situation that confronted Police on 10 February and on 2 March. These include:
The Authority has made a number of recommendations to help Police improve public order policing, which are attached. These include that Police:
The Authority received 1,905 complaints, over 85% from people who were not physically present at the protest. The vast majority of issues raised by these complaints are addressed in this report. We are completing independent investigations of 19 complaints and will report the outcome to each complainant. We will also provide a summary of our findings on these matters on our website when all investigations have been completed.