Parliament protest review: Police watchdog's key findings, recommendations

  • 20/04/2023

The independent police watchdog's report into police actions during the Parliament protest last year has just been released.

It follows more than 1900 complaints against police actions during the three-week occupation, including allegations of the use of excessive force by officers. 

However, the Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) has found overall "police served the public of New Zealand well in dealing with this difficult and complex set of events".

"Frontline officers faced extreme provocation and violent behaviour from some of the protesters, and a level of public disorder rarely seen in New Zealand," authority chair Judge Colin Doherty said.

"In the face of that, almost all police officers involved exercised professionalism and restraint in their dealings with the protesters. It is commendable that police were able to end the illegal occupation of Parliament grounds on 2 March 2022 with as few injuries and as little damage to property as they did."

Here's a list of some of the report's findings:

  • Police intelligence staff provided decision-makers with very good information about the developing protest environment ahead of the occupation, but police then failed to properly consider some of the intelligence
  • In light of the intelligence, police should have consulted Wellington City Council well before the arrival of the convoy about whether a traffic management plan needed to be put in place, and a police operational plan should have been prepared
  • There was insufficient liaison between police and the Parliamentary Service in the initial period of the protest
  • Police placed undue reliance on information the protest would conclude on the afternoon of February 8 and were unaware or failed to take into account contrary information. 
  • There was also not enough staff to manage the protest on that day, though having more would have made no difference to the course of events as police at that point didn't have legal authority to end the protest
  • Once protesters showed an intent to stay overnight on February 8 and began erecting structures, the Speaker was legally justified to close Parliament's grounds and the protesters became trespassers by their continued presence.
  • The Police Commissioner made an independent decision to attempt to clear Parliament's grounds on February 10 and there was no undue political interference
  • The February 10 operation was unlikely to succeed but it may have retained a measure of community support for the police approach. It also bought police time to plan for the eventual operation on March 2
  • There was no properly articulated and communicated plan for the February 10 operation, police were unprepared and it was hurriedly executed by an under-resourced unit
  • Police initially failed to give warnings required by the Trespass Act in the correct fashion and the law was ill-equipped to deal with this large-scale public order event
  • The arrest process was deficient and as a result a majority of charges brought against protesters should not have been laid. However, the degree of force used in the arrests was generally reasonable
  • The February 10 operation continued for longer than necessary and should have been terminated when it became evident it would not succeed
  • Police were unprepared to physically deal with so many arrests and people in custody, which meant they were unable to comply with all legal and policy requirements governing the treatment of detainees in custody
  • Police took the right approach after February 10 to contain the protest and maintain law and order
  • The demands of day-to-day policing and shortages due to COVID-19 made it difficult to do the necessary planning, but police received assistance after a national operation was established. However, a more flexible process for providing support should have been in place
  • Police worked on a strategy for removing protesters' vehicles blocking streets around Parliament, but they didn't have the capacity to do this on their own and attempts to obtain support from tow operators were largely unsuccessful. Only a few vehicles were towed
  • Police successfully used concrete bollards to contain and shrink the occupation footprint which contributed to the success of the March 2 operation
  • Police should have formulated a clear communication and engagement strategy and plan for speaking with the protesters
  • Police faced strong resistance from the protest group on March 2, including substantial and sustained violence.
  • In the face of extreme provocation, there were isolated incidents of potentially excessive reactive force by police, but generally, officers acted professionally and with remarkable restraint
  • All tactics police used to defend themselves and others on March 2 was justified in the circumstances, including the use of skirmish lines, shields, pepper spray, batons and weapons of opportunity
  • The police operation overall on March 2 was conducted successfully and professionally
  • There should have been better communication about when officers could wear hard body armour. Police did not have a sufficient inventory of hard body armour
  • Newly graduated officers used to boost numbers for the operation were not adequately prepared or equipped for their role, while it was undesirable for recruits to be involved
  • Issues with the mass arrest process on February 10 were identified and police tried to address them, but issues with evidence collection remained on March 2 and resulted in some charges being withdrawn
  • With the exception of a vehicle extraction plan, police lacked a detailed plan for dealing with the property left behind on Parliament's grounds
  • The protest and occupation exposed the ineffectiveness of some current laws, including the law of trespass, the law of governing how arrests may be lawfully effected, and the law governing how property left behind by trespassers should be handled

The recommendations made by the IPCA

1) Develop their end-to-end public order policing operating model as a matter of some priority, and ensure that:

  • It explicitly bases the strategic approach and standard operating procedures of police on the “4E graduated response model”. 
  • It sets out detailed criteria governing decisions about whether officers should be equipped with protective equipment, and authorised to carry long batons, pepper spray or other tactical options, supplemented by a range of scenarios. 
  • It addresses the extent to which, and the way in which, Tactical Options Reports from officers who have used force in major operations should be submitted. 
  • It prescribes processes for mobilising required staff and equipment to deal with large-scale events, including fully addressing health and safety requirements. 
  • It addresses the extent to which each available type of tactical option in the use of force should be deployed in a public order context. 
  • It considers the way in which police should effectively engage with protest groups, partner agencies and other interested parties. This should include respective roles and responsibilities within police, and address how engagement should adapt to a social media environment where groups can more readily coalesce around a range of agendas without unified leadership.
  • It is complemented by enhanced workforce management practices, including monitoring certifications and maintaining a register of the deployable skills of staff and making this accessible to the organisation as a whole. 
  • It sets out requirements for ensuring there is adequate training for the deployable skills that officers are certified and registered as having (taking into account police cannot fully prepare and train sufficient numbers of staff for events such as this that have occurred, at least until now, very infrequently). 

2) As part of the revised and broader public order policing policy recommended above, develop standard operating procedures for the parliamentary precinct. This should include scenario planning in conjunction with partner agencies, including the Parliamentary Service and the Courts, to avoid ad hoc decision-making for events such as these. 

3) Work with partner agencies (such as the New Zealand Defence Force) to review their strategic planning capability and provide additional training as required. 

4) Review associated police policies and guidance to ensure best practice strategic planning and operational planning during major operations, including logistics management. These should include the processes required to enable adequate interfaces with regulatory agencies and other key partner agencies. 

5) Revise their policy to require intelligence products to best support decision-makers and priority setting, and to clearly assign responsibility for decision-making. 

6) Clearly spell out the purpose and responsibilities of an Executive Lead in a MOC context, both in general terms in policy and more specifically on a case-by-case basis when the role is created, so that there is a clear understanding of the role and how it interacts within the command and control structure of an operation. 

7) Review the training requirements for the command and control of major events at both national and District levels to ensure that staff with the right skills are available when required. 

8) Include their new three tier structure in policy, with clear definitions of the command and control structure and the roles/responsibilities of those within it under various scenarios. 

9) Urgently acquire extra public order policing equipment. 

10) Review what equipment is internationally available to enhance the range of suitable options. 

11) Work with partners to improve the national transport of equipment and personnel in emergency situations. 

12) Develop policy and process guidelines for using recruits during major or high-risk operations. 

13) Enhance their health and safety practices and include a requirement that, wherever practicable, a written health and safety plan with appropriate input from health and welfare staff be developed prior to major public order operations posing a significant risk to staff. 

14) Propose to the Government that there be a multi-agency review of the law governing a public order event such as this.