The IPCA has had enough of being ignored

The Council has been concerned with the poor quality of Police oversight for a while. The Police are given a lot of authority in our society and for many people they are one of the sharp ends of government power. Unfortunately oversight of the use of that power has been lacking, and even when the Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) investigates and rules against them, it seems their findings are often ignored by Police. A toothless watchdog is of no use to anyone and erodes public trust in the Police.

It appears that Conrad Peterson felt the same way and he has submitted a petition to improve the situation, which has resulted in this report from the Petitions Committee. While the concerns of the petititioner were largely dismissed, the IPCA has taken the initiative to say what it really felt and made some substantial recommendations that would increase the scope of their work and their ability to hold the conduct of Police to account.

We think they’re well worth reading and have included them in full here (as summarised in the report, the full IPCA submission is here):

The IPCA submitted that it could not say whether Mr Petersen’s proposed reforms would address his concerns. It submitted that his concerns did not raise major or systemic issues that it believed would require a “radical overhaul”. However, the IPCA identified the following reforms, which it believes could strengthen its legislation and align its powers with similar bodies in other jurisdictions.

Clarify the IPCA’s influence over police investigations of complaints

Section 17 of the Independent Police Conduct Authority Act sets out the options available to the IPCA when it receives complaints, including referring a matter back to the Police for investigation. The IPCA refers back to the Police approximately 75 percent of complaints that it decides should be investigated. The IPCA said that there is uncertainty about how much authority it has over these Police investigations, due to “patchwork development” of section 17 of the Act. The IPCA said that it can only identify issues at the outset of an investigation that has been referred to the Police and review investigation material as it is generated. The IPCA said, “We often struggle to engage successfully with the investigating officer, and the final outcome is often not as robust as we believe it should be.”

The IPCA is also concerned that it has no ability to review police draft investigation reports before the Police make final decisions. Section 20 of the Act provides that the Police may consult with the IPCA before reporting on complaints, but does not require such consultation.

The IPCA said that as a result it often sees investigation reports only after the Police have made their decisions, and “in these cases may find we do not agree—either with the adequacy of the investigation undertaken, or the final outcome”. When this occurs, the IPCA is limited to making adverse comment about the result. The IPCA said this leads to criticism that the IPCA is toothless and reduces public trust and confidence in the Police. It would like an approach that requires the Police to refer draft reports to the IPCA so that concerns can be resolved before the Police make decisions.

Finally, the IPCA is concerned about its lack of influence over police employment investigations. It noted the argument of the Police Association that decisions following employment investigations should be made between the employer and the employee. The IPCA said the Police have tended to follow that approach. This means that, even when the IPCA is involved in an investigation and has the opportunity to comment on draft reports, it has no influence over subsequent decision-making. The IPCA submitted that there is public interest in ensuring that employment outcomes following complaints by members of the public are robust. It would like legislation to allow it to be involved in employment decisions following investigations.

Give the IPCA the power to conduct investigations of its own volition

Currently, the IPCA can only investigate complaints or matters that involve a death or serious bodily injury. It cannot undertake reviews into police policy, practice, and procedure, known as “thematic reviews”, unless it has one or more complaints or referrals to draw on. This prevents it from reviewing matters that have not been the subject of specific complaints, such as policing practices that have been the subject of media comment. The IPCA said being able to investigate areas where it thinks investigation is necessary would improve its preventative ability and let it make recommendations in vulnerable areas.

Allow the IPCA to prosecute or refer prosecutions to a different body

Currently, where the IPCA conducts an investigation and decides that prosecution is warranted, it must refer those matters to the Police. The Police then have sole authority over whether to prosecute or take disciplinary action. However, the IPCA said that the Police may, at times, lack objectivity and may not always strike the correct balance between dealing with conduct issues and being a good employer.

The IPCA noted that similar bodies in other jurisdictions can pursue prosecutions themselves. It said it could be given the same powers. Alternatively, it suggested that it could refer prosecution decisions to a different authority, such as the Solicitor-General, rather than to the Police.

The IPCA pointed out that the High Court recently ruled that the Police were not sufficiently independent to conduct a homicide investigation into the shooting of Steven Wallace by police officers. The IPCA warned that this finding could hold true for all police investigations into police actions. This would have implications for how the IPCA works. Currently, the IPCA can investigate complaints but the results of its investigations cannot be used in any subsequent proceedings. This means that a police investigation is always necessary if a matter is to be prosecuted. The IPCA signalled that this might have to change if the Police were not considered sufficiently independent to conduct investigations into police conduct. This would mean the IPCA would need a substantial increase in resources and expertise.

We support these recommendations and they would go some way to alleviating our concerns with the ineffective oversight of Police conduct in New Zealand.