Concerns raised over police complaints process, treatment of victims of police misconduct

Questions are being raised as to why NZ Police officers do not face greater consequences when they are found guilty of misconduct against members of the public. 

In a letter written to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Justice Minister Andrew Little, the founder of the New Zealand Police Conduct Association (NZPCA), Shannon Parker, has called for an overhaul of the system for those mistreated by officers. 

Parker is asking why some instances of misconduct are not taken to court when the Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) has ruled against the offending officer, and claims complaints filed by alleged victims are too often dismissed.

"I think in the cases where the IPCA have ruled against the police, I think those matters should be put before the court. The IPCA has a judge, the judge decided that an offence had been committed," Parker told Newshub.

"It's especially frustrating for the victim, when the IPCA has ruled it is an offense but the police are saying it isn't." 

The IPCA is an independent civilian oversight body that considers complaints against police and oversees their conduct. When the IPCA receives a complaint, it may carry out its own investigation, refer the complaint to the police for investigation or coordinate a resolution. 

When a complaint against an officer is referred to the police for investigation, the inquiry is typically overseen and reviewed by the IPCA to ensure it was undertaken fairly. Police are also responsible for informing the IPCA of any incident in which an officer, "acting in the execution of their duty", causes death or serious injury.

But Parker believes police are protecting their own when it comes to complaints against the force. As noted in the NZPCA's letter, an annual report by the IPCA - also covered by RNZ - revealed that not all complaints received by NZ Police were being notified to the authority.

"I've seen multiple examples of victims and complainants that have been let down by the police, from the beginning to the end of the complaints process," she said. 

"I'm aware police face multiple challenges when they're investigating their own - they're thinking about their reputation, employment matters and the media - but I believe that's where the victim is let down."

Newshub contacted police on Saturday for a response to the letter. Police said they would respond on Monday.

'They don't feel they've been heard'

Parker argues that alleged victims of police misconduct are frequently let down by the complaints process, and are too often left in the dark.

"With my clients, a very high percentage of them absolutely believe they have been let down in one way or another. Often it's just simple things, like updating the complainant or giving them the outcome of their complaint... There are many examples where a year has gone by, and the person has never been told the outcome," she said. 

"The victims don't feel they've got justice, they don't feel they've been heard. Often they don't know what's happened or why, especially when police haven't bothered to explain it to them."

Parker also says mistreated offenders will often not come forward with their complaint out of fear of discrimination.

"I think there are a lot of people who don't come forward because they did something wrong, which is unfortunate because two wrongs don't make a right," she said.

"It's possible that the criminal history of offenders who have come forward is taken into account and impacts how they're treated by the police."

Parker says filing a complaint can be "intimidating" for alleged victims of misconduct. 

"There's an imbalance of power and knowledge when it comes to lodging a complaint against the police. It can be intimidating, it puts people off speaking out, which means we have officers getting away with their behaviour."