The IPCA should audit NZ Police’s use of attack dogs

The IPCA should audit NZ Police’s use of attack dogs

Today, the IPCA released its investigation report into an incident in April 2021, during which a police attack dog was used against a man who violently resisted arrest for having stolen a car. The dog’s bites significantly injured the man, and he required surgery. These significant injuries led NZ Police to notify the IPCA about the incident.

The IPCA found that, in this particular case, the use of an attack dog was justified. Though in the media release accompanying the report, IPCA chair Judge Colin Doherty said:

Because of the likelihood of injury caused by a biting dog, we consider the use of a Police dog to be a significant use of force, only justifiable in specific circumstances. On its own, apprehending the driver of a stolen car will not often warrant such significant force.

IPCA Chair Judge Colin Doherty

NZ Police’s response to this report was brief, primarily just saying that NZ Police accepted the IPCA’s findings.

When I investigated NZ Police’s use of attack dogs in 2018, I found that the two most common charges laid following the use of an attack dog were “traffic offences” and “car conversion etc”.

Also, 76% of the incidents where NZ Police set attack dogs on people in 2018, those people were below the “assaultive” threshold. Most of the time, they were recorded as “active resistant”, meaning they were pushing away, pulling away, or running away.

Using attack dogs against people who are unarmed and running away is the norm for NZ Police’s dog handlers, and often they had stolen a car.

So, if the IPCA considers that “On its own, apprehending the driver of a stolen car will not often warrant such significant force [as the use of a Police dog]”, then I can’t help but wonder how many unreported incidents where police set attack dogs on people would be found to be unjustified if investigated by the IPCA.

NZ Police has shown a clear unwillingness to address the harms done by their attack dog programme. In their annual use of force reports, they typically dismiss the incredibly high injury rate of their attack dogs rather than acknowledging it as a real concern. The majority of moderate and serious injuries caused by police use of force are inflicted by their attack dogs.

In this case, NZ Police reported the incident to the IPCA themselves. I don’t know how often this happens for incidents where attack dogs were used. Based on the number of investigation reports published by the IPCA, it seems unlikely to me that NZ Police report every incident during which one of their attack dogs seriously injures someone. Though it may instead be that the IPCA either doesn’t publish its findings for many of these investigations or that it doesn’t always investigate these incidents when they’re reported.

Based on Judge Doherty’s statement and my analysis of NZ Police’s data regarding their use of attack dogs, I think it’s likely that the IPCA would find many unreported uses of attack dogs by NZ Police to have not been justified under the law. Considering the significant harm done by this tactical option, I’d like to see the IPCA conduct an audit NZ Police’s use of attack dogs.

Police officer assaulted youth over cigarettes

Police officer assaulted youth over cigarettes

In July 2019, an off-duty police officer followed a 14 year old boy who he suspected of having stolen a packet of cigarettes. When he caught up with the boy and his friend, he grabbed the boy’s friend by the collar, then punched the first boy twice in the face, knocking him to the ground.

The boy’s condition deteriorated after this, and he had to be taken to hospital because of a suspected fractured eye socket.

The boy also said the officer kicked him while he was on the ground.

This incident was unusual in that NZ Police charged their officer with injuring with intent to injure. However, the charge was dismissed by the Crown after two jury trials in 2020 and 2021 during which the jury could not reach a verdict.

Though it’s not clear why the jury couldn’t reach a verdict in these trials, New Zealand’s culture of respect and deference to police officers makes it difficult to hold police to account for abusing their powers, even in the rare case in which NZ Police decides to charge one of their officers with a crime.

Today, the IPCA has released its report into the incident, which had been delayed due to the court proceedings. In it, they found that:

Officer A had no legal justification to punch Mr X.

The [Independent Police Conduct] Authority is unable to determine whether Officer A kicked Mr X.

IPCA – Off-duty Police officer punches youth who stole cigarettes

In its response, NZ Police said “Police acknowledge and accept these findings”. In addition to the court action, NZ Police conducted an employment investigation, resulting in a finding of serious misconduct. NZ Police says the officer is no longer employed by NZ Police, though it’s not clear if he resigned or if he was fired.

NZ Police has special rules for off-duty interventions. A version of this Police Manual chapter was released under the OIA in November 2019 and in July 2020, and is available on policepolicy.nz: Off-duty interventions

This “Officer A” has also had his identity kept secret, though as far as I can tell from the statements from the IPCA and NZ Police, there doesn’t appear to have been any name suppression involved. Rather, this seems like another example of the culture of secrecy surrounding police misconduct, where the identities of police officers who abuse their power are kept secret forever.