Cop exposing genitals on wild Waitangi trip 'negatively affected police's reputation' - IPCA

The IPCA said there are unclear expectations on supervisors while off-duty which puts the police's reputation at risk.
The IPCA said there are unclear expectations on supervisors while off-duty which puts the police's reputation at risk. Photo credit: Getty Images

An off-duty officer exposed himself to colleagues while drinking during Waitangi Day celebrations, which "negatively affected police's reputation", the police watchdog has found.

The Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) found police need to establish clear supervision expectations for managers if they are expected to oversee officers' behaviour while off-duty.

It comes after the IPCA independently investigated or oversaw the police investigation into four incidents in 2019 when officers behaved inappropriately while off-duty and drinking alcohol. 

The watchdog said the officers were representing police in some capacity at the time, and officers must comply with the Police Code of Conduct at all times.

All four incidents resulted in criminal investigations, with charges laid in three of the cases, because of the behaviour identified. 

One of the incidents involved the off-duty behaviour of Auckland officers sent to monitor the Waitangi commemorations.

Police became aware of the off-duty behaviour while investigating a separate, serious incident. The concerning behaviour was captured on a motel CCTV footage, and police notified the Authority.

"Our investigation found that, while the officers were entitled to drink alcohol while off-duty, the level of consumption clearly led to a general lack of professionalism and respect for the public-facing environment and the context of the deployment," the IPCA said.  

"There were several examples of unprofessional and inappropriate language and behaviour that evening, including the use of an improvised vessel as part of a drinking challenge, and an officer exposing his genitals to his colleagues. These actions negatively affected Police's reputation."

But the IPCA said because of the nature of the deployment, the Northland District leadership was expected to communicate better what was appropriate during off-duty hours. 

"The boundaries of what was appropriate were left ambiguous and were badly misinterpreted by the supervising sergeants and constables," the IPCA said. 

"The supervising sergeants accept that some of the behaviour that evening was unacceptable and unprofessional, but say that it was not clear what, if any, authority they could exert over the constables or each other to regulate behaviour while off-duty."

The IPCA found through its inquiry that the police investigation had some inconsistencies. 

"It was unfair that only the sergeants were investigated and sanctioned for the behaviour when the Code of Conduct emphasises self-responsibility and accountability for all officers," IPCA said.

"We found that the other three incidents, all linked to Police-sponsored sports events, were appropriately resolved."  

 Authority chair Judge Colin Doherty said while all four incidents include abuse of alcohol, it would be inappropriate to "extrapolate general trends about off-duty behaviour and consumption of alcohol" within the police from such a small sample.

"However, these incidents illustrate that public trust and confidence in Police is vulnerable in different instances when Police officers are off-duty but still represent Police in some way," Doherty said.  

"Police need to establish general behaviour and supervision expectations for when officers are deployed in an operation but are off-duty between shifts." 

Doherty said there are times when the line between private activities and public scrutiny is blurred.

"The current uncertainty about expectations and responsibilities, and how to manage staff when things go awry, not only places an unfair burden on sergeants and senior sergeants but puts Police's reputation at risk."

In a statement, police said they acknowledge the findings of the IPCA report into the off-duty incidents.

"Police has clear expectations of police officers' behaviour both on and off duty and this is set out in the Police Code of Conduct," Assistant Commissioner Richard Chambers said.

"Police has previously commented on the incident during the Waitangi deployment and at the time acknowledged that the behaviour of the officers involved was completely unacceptable and extremely concerning."

Chambers said the officers' behaviour is not representative of the culture within the police.

"The criminal matters that emerged during the Waitangi deployment were thoroughly investigated and resulted in criminal charges," Chambers said.

"Overall, we trust our people to conduct themselves in a manner which is professional and maintains trust and confidence in our organisation.

"Staff behaviour on and off duty should always reflect the Code of Conduct and our values."

Chambers said they accept the IPCA's feedback that police should've investigated all of the officers' behaviour which could've breached the Code of Conduct. 

"We note that each individual was made aware of how their actions had breached the Code, and their specific actions were addressed accordingly," Chambers said.

"Police is always looking at ways to improve our culture and we expect staff to live up to the Police values."