Police, IPCA agree to start regarding people who complain of mistreatment by officers as victims

AMBERLEY, NEW ZEALAND - APRIL 10: A police officer stops a car at a checkpoint on April 10, 2020 in Amberley, New Zealand. With New Zealand in lockdown due to COVID-19, police are setting up checkpoints across the country to ensure people on the roads are travelling for essential purposes only. The Easter long weekend is a popular time for New Zealanders to go on holiday, however current Level 4 restrictions in place due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic requires everyone to remain at the place of residence they were in as of midnight 25 March when New Zealand went into lockdown. (Photo by Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images)
Photo credit: Getty Images

Police have agreed to treat people who complain of mistreatment by officers as victims, signing off on a suite of changes that will fill what they admit was a "possible gap" in their process.

Police watchdog the Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) will follow suit, following years of complaints from victims advocate Shannon Parker.

Parker, the head of the NZ Police Conduct Association (NZPCA), says while she's rapt the changes have been made, they're not enough - and "a major shift in the attitude and actions" of officers is still needed.

She says issues are systemic and must be addressed by Commissioner Andrew Coster, or police will "continue to fail victims of their own staff and induce questions around the integrity of investigations" when cops are left to investigate their own.

What are the changes?

Under the new policy, anyone who has laid a complaint about their treatment by a police officer will now be supplied victim support advice, just as they would if they had laid a complaint against a member of the public.

A 'Complaint Acknowledgement Letter' has been introduced, which will contain information enabling victims to obtain further advice and support from Victim Support, the Victims Information website and the Ministry of Justice.

There are two versions of this letter, depending on whether the complaint was filed directly with police or with the IPCA.

As well as support and advice, the letter will also provide complainants with the file number of their complaint and contact details if they wish to discuss it further at any time.

A police spokesperson told Newshub discussions about the policy change with the IPCA were prompted by feedback from a member of the public. IPCA Chair Judge Colin Doherty had previously said that person was Parker.

"That person had rightly identified that the lack of an acknowledgment form or letter for complaints about police conduct was a possible gap in our process," police said.

'It's not enough'

Parker told Newshub while she's happy the police have made a change, she doesn't believe it's a long-term fix.

"All police are doing is providing victims of their own staff with the same information they have been providing every other victim for years," she said.

"I'm rapt they are finally doing it but it's not enough. There needs to be a major shift in the attitude and actions of Police when it comes to complaints against their own.

"Until the Police Commissioner stands up and acknowledges it's time for change and pushes that message through the police professional conduct group and district commanders, police will continue to fail victims of their own staff and induce questions around the integrity of investigations where Police are investigating their own."

It's hoped the change will help mitigate issues for people who have complained about their treatment at the hands of police officers, such as Whakaari Peri and Daniel Bond.

But Parker says even with the announcement of the changes, the IPCA have ignored her questions about when they'll be implemented - and she wants to see more improvements.

"I would be more than happy to meet with the Police Commissioner to discuss the other gaps in their processes," she told Newshub.