In March 2021, two police officers tried to arrest a man for disorderly behaviour. During the arrest, the man kicked both the officers in the head while he was on the ground. After one of the officers was kicked, he kicked the man back in the head, knocking his head against the driveway and leaving him unresponsive for 30 seconds.

The IPCA has ruled that the officer was not justified in kicking the man’s head. The officer claimed he did this in self defence, which is a legal defence against assault under s48 of the Crimes Act. But the IPCA disagreed, saying the obvious response would have been to step away from the man.

Having viewed CCTV footage of the arrest, and interviewed the officers, the IPCA said that they “doubt that [Officer A] is telling the truth… we consider Officer A acted out of anger and in retaliation for being kicked himself.”

They conclude:

As we have found that Officer A was not acting for the purpose of self-defence, the kick cannot
be legally justified.

IPCA – Head kick to man during Christchurch arrest unjustified

The IPCA also went on to consider whether or not the kick would have been justified if Officer A was telling the truth, and they still determined that he would not have been legally justified in kicking the man as he did.

NZ Police’s response is typical for this kind of finding. They claim to “accept” the IPCA’s ruling, but provide no evidence that the officer has faced any consequences for what appears to have been an assault.

In fact, NZ Police charged the man with assault, because he had kicked their officers in the head. But Police chose not to charge their own officer with kicking him back in the head, even though that kick did considerably more harm. Police have only confirmed that Officer A is still a member of New Zealand Police.

This decision by NZ Police, to not charge a member of their own with assault even though they charged the member of the public with assault, is a very clear example of the double standard used by NZ Police when it comes to holding people accountable for violence.

NZ Police using their power of prosecutorial discretion to protect their own from the consequences of abusing their power is, to put it simply, corruption. It happens time and time again.

We need to reform the IPCA to allow them the power to prosecute police officers, as they have told parliament is necessary.

Currently, where the IPCA conducts an investigation and decides that prosecution is warranted, it must refer those matters to the Police. The Police then have sole authority over whether to prosecute or take disciplinary action. However, the IPCA said that the Police may, at times, lack objectivity and may not always strike the correct balance between dealing with conduct issues and being a good employer.

The IPCA noted that similar bodies in other jurisdictions can pursue prosecutions themselves. It said it could be given the same powers. Alternatively, it suggested that it could refer prosecution decisions to a different authority, such as the Solicitor-General, rather than to the Police.

IPCA | Response to Petition of Conrad Petersen