Parliament protest: Police Commissioner Andrew Coster doesn't think there's 'any call for apology' for police actions

Police were underprepared, under-resourced, and lacked a coordinated plan to deal with New Zealand's biggest protest since the Springbok tour. But overall, their actions were justified.

That's the conclusion of a year-long, $3.5 million investigation into the response to Parliament's occupation.

The Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) pored over more than 1300 hours of footage and interviewed 377 people - including former Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern - and came up with 14 recommendations.

It was an explosive, violent and riotous battle to end the 23-day parliament occupation.

The watchdog has found that "overall, we think the police served the public of New Zealand well".

But there were some serious flaws. Authority Judge Doherty said one of the big issues was a "lack of planning".

The findings are found in the 225-page report from the police watchdog, which pored over 1900 complaints, 85 percent from Kiwis not at the protest. 

"Eight of those may well be justified complaints," said Judge Doherty.

They are complaints where police may have used excessive force, like when a man had his head pinned to the ground.

Newshub contacted some of the groups known to be at the protest - they didn't respond.

"Firstly to note, eight actions over the thousands of interactions that occurred over those weeks is remarkable in itself," said Police Commissioner Andrew Coster. 

Right from the first day, the police underestimated the protesters.

Despite having intelligence that up to 1000 cars were headed for the capital, police didn't have a traffic management plan.

"It's easy to look at these things in hindsight," said Judge Doherty.

"In hindsight, we can easily say we underestimated," said Coster.

Soon cars were parked, portaloos installed, tents were pitched and police were outnumbered.

There was one failed attempt to remove them, but for 23 days, the grounds of Parliament were occupied.

Then on that final, violent day, police top brass didn't give officers the right armour in case it provoked protesters.

"The reality is we did not have enough equipment in the country for the scale of what occurred. In hindsight that's clear, we’ve since purchased additional equipment," said Coster.

Police - some not even graduated from police college - were put on the frontline.

"We had a small window in which to act and part of that unfortunately was the need to mobilise less experienced staff," said Coster.

Judge Doherty found that "substantial and sustained violence was directed at police".

"This included throwing a Molotov cocktail, bricks, paving stones, fireworks, poles, bottles, a knife and other projectiles."

Protesters were pushed back with pepper spray, batons, and sponge rounds. Two officers threw bricks. That was justified in self-defence, the watchdog found. 

The riot could have ended in death.

"There's always a risk if someone is throwing a brick at someone's head."

The IPCA report also found our arrest laws lacking.

On February 10, 108 people were arrested. Police lacked the capacity to deal with them, evidence wasn't properly processed and some charges were withdrawn as a result.

One of their recommendations is for police to propose to the Government a cross-agency review looking at incidents of mass arrests.

"We've accepted the recommendations and they do align with what we have I suppose identified through our own internal reviews," said Coster. "I don't think that there is any call there for an apology. We're very proud of how we turned out for this event."

An event the country would now probably like to forget.