The IPCA – police watch dog is a real puppy

The Independent Police Conduct Authority (generally known as the IPCA) has just released a comprehensive report on police deaths in custody. There were 27 deaths in the last ten years – ten of which were suicides.  Seven deaths occurred when police were overly vigorous in the use of restraint. Another seven were “caused by the detainees medical condition” (which got dramatically worse in police custody), and three deaths were drug related (because police failed to ascertain the detainees were even on drugs). But of the 27 deaths, the IPCA claims that only four involved serious neglect of duty or breaches of policy by police. Really?

On top of deaths in custody, the police shot and killed seven people in the last ten years.  One was an innocent bystander, another two were not even carrying firearms. It seems they were killed for acts of vandalism and behaving in a threatening manner. The police were exonerated in all seven cases. Really!

Then there are the people who die in the course of police car chases.  During the five years starting in December 2003, 24 people died and 91 received serious injuries in police pursuits.  Over this period, the IPCA made numerous recommendations to change police protocols which made no difference at all – the death rate shot up even higher. In 2010, 18 drivers  fleeing police were killed.  In 2011, 15 drivers died in the course of police pursuits.

These figures don’t seem to take into account innocent bystanders or other drivers killed by these drivers which makes it hard to get accurate figures of the total numbers killed. But it seems to average out at about seven or eight deaths a year, although the numbers have escalated dramatically in the last two years.

Total number of police related deaths

This would suggest that altogether police have been involved in the deaths of about 100 people in the last ten years – 70 of them on the road.  The number of injuries appears to be ten times that figure.  A few police were told off, but apparently not one was charged with a criminal offence.  Yes – really! Imagine would happen if the shoe was on the other foot. What if the police investigated 100 deaths but failed to prosecute even one offender? There would be a commission of inquiry and heads would roll.

Many would argue that the police are just doing their job. Even the IPCA believes these deaths are justified. For instance, in its report into the deaths of Norman Fitt and Deidre Jordan following a police pursuit, the IPCA found:  “The Police pursuit of a driver who killed two other motorists in Christchurch in August 2010 was justified and was conducted according to law and policy.”  What that seems to mean is that when the police do their job, 100 dead bodies is just collateral damage.

The police certainly seem to think so. Police Association president Greg O’Connor even says police should be exempt from laws which apply to everyone else. Senior police management seem to agree. In an internal review of police pursuits in 2010, the police concluded:  “There is insufficient evidence to support the banning of pursuits. (Banning pursuits) is not likely to improve or guarantee public safety.” This shows a truly remarkable lack of insight. If police did not pursue these alleged offenders, approximately 70 people killed on the road in the last ten years would still be alive. That would be a huge contribution to public safety.

Which crimes justify dying? 

This begs the question: what criminal offences committed by these drivers actually justify police action which leads to someone’s death – especially the deaths of innocent bystanders? Afterall, many if not most, police pursuits begin over fairly trivial offences – or simply when police try to pull someone over to ascertain if an offence has even occurred.  Psychologist, Peter Coleman, an expert in youth offending, says teenage drivers who refuse to stop for police are often just addicted to the adrenaline rush. But if the offender flees, the police then pursue them out some macho need to be in control of the situation – all justified in the name of law and order.

IPCA inquiries which legitimise the policy of pursuit over minor infractions of the law simply add to the number of New Zealanders who get killed. In other words, the principle of law and order has become more important than life itself and agencies of the state actively sanction this slaughter.  What the IPCA should be doing is questioning the entire policy of pursuit and holding the police accountable. Now let’s get back to their report on deaths in police custody.

Failure of police to assess risk

The report is highly critical of the way police assess the detainees’ risk of suicide or risk of death – from medical complications exacerbated by alcohol and drugs or from overly vigorous restraint by police.   It says 55% of those who died were assessed by police as being at ‘no risk’. Another 30% were ‘not formally assessed’ at all. In other words, when it comes to assessing medical and suicide risk of vulnerable detainees, the police haven’t got a clue.  But that’s not surprising; they’re not health professionals. But nurses are – and the IPCA recommends that the Police work with the Ministry of Health “towards extending the watchhouse nurse programme so that custody staff nationwide have better access to medical advice for detainees.”   What the IPCA is suggesting is that we need to put nurses into every police station in the country.

Unfortunately, there are 19 other recommendations in the report and the IPCA has not prioritised any one recommendation over another.  And the recommendation for more nurses is contradicted by another recommendation which says that “detainees who are unconscious or semi-conscious, unable to answer the risk assessment questions, and/or physically unable to look after themselves, must be taken to hospital.”  The problem is the police don’t seem to know which detainees need to go to hospital.

The watchdog is a puppy

Let’s not forget that prisoners managed by the Corrections Department also have limited access to health care.  Despite years of inquiries and recommendations by the coroner into (Corrections) prison deaths, the suicide rate is still going up. In 2011, the suicide rate in Corrections prisons was eleven times higher than the rate in the community.  Prisoners keep dying no matter what coronial inquiries or the IPCA recommend.  Perhaps that’s because they have the power to recommend – but not the power to prosecute.  The IPCA is supposed to be a watchdog. Turns out to be more of a puppy – and very eager to please.

One thought on “The IPCA – police watch dog is a real puppy

  1. If the death toll over the past ten years of prison deaths, police pursuit deaths, or detained people were a fraction of these figures this still would not make the system acceptable. It is true that many suicide attempts are prevented by prison wardens that intervene, it could also be argued that if a person is determined to end their life they will do whatever they can to do so.But if a person feels so desperate that they are contemplating this notion it would be an indication that they have a serious mental health issue that need help, not ignorance or aggressive policing or punishment in isolation in prison. If the crimes of all the people that had committed suicide were examined it would indicate that most had not committed very serious offences such as Richard Barriball, therefore the futility and sad waste of any life should not happen, and would possibly not happen if people were treated as human beings and given the help they clearly need. In order to do this the police and Corrections health system and policies must change.

    The IPCA is supposedly an independent police investigatory body that states anyone can complain on it’s website, it is actually a government body which would be governed under the guidelines of the Ministry Of Justice. It is therefore not independent of the Judicial processes or the aggressive government policies,nor the policing policies or judicial processes. It is another government body that serves to question and examine complaints but rarely implements positive action or change that is purposeful. As you say Roger it is another watchdog that doesn’t help the complainant.

    If the police have carried out their job and cause a death as a result of it in a police pursuit, this will be deemed acceptable because they are carrying out what Judith Collins and the government policy dictates as crime prevention, the policy is the way to stop a wayward driver is to chase them relentlessly which may cause a crash, injury and sometimes death as a result. More often than not car pursuits are carried out with teens driving, either it is the theft of a car, a drunk or drug user or thrill seeker so the pursuit further fuels a dangerous situation which should be avoided at all costs. It is true that the adrenalin kicks in for the person fleeing, the flight and fight scenario takes place, this applies to the police driving and also the driver fleeing. Somehow his doesn’t seem like sensible behaviour from a law enforcing point of view. It is more often irrational, charged up aggressive police who get a thrill out driving at high speed, often encouraging and inciting a dangerous situation, sometimes in adverse weather conditions, built up areas and at high speeds. Often the police do not carry out the due processes they are supposed to and often there are no witnesses to argue, or evidence there to prove their actions are dangerous, which is nothing more than aggressive incitement on their part that serves no purpose other than to endanger lives.
    Judith Collins justifies the police pursuit policy in this recent article: –

    My concerns are that Judith Collins and people of this same mind frame actually believe that: “The message has to be that it’s just not worth it to run. This sentence implies that people stop to think before embarking on fleeing in a police pursuit! Judith Collins believes that anyone who runs from the police or gets in a car and drives erratically will stop to think rationally or of the consequences! It is nonsense to believe that people who act in the moment understand this message. It is nonsense to expect irrational people to comprehend the safety issues or any other issue if they are not in their right mind. The other matter of fact is this, sometimes people flee the police just out of fear not because they have done anything wrong at all. There have been cases when totally innocent people have run away and been shot or apprehended by the police. It is not always fair or justified to assume a person has committed a crime if they run away or drive away erratically from the police. If there’s a situation when a person runs because they panic the police are inciting criminal behaviour by pursuing the chase.Therefore it isn’t a case of the police being damned either way at all, it is a case of the police doing what is right which is preventing deaths occurring from not initiating a police pursuit.

    If the pursuit wasn’t initiated then these deaths would not have happened.Nobody deserves to loose their life from this bizarre practice. You cannot justify these deaths because Judith Collins believes the police have to stop criminal behaviour with this practice and that this practice justifies risking peoples lives for the sake of catching a thief, drug user, someone who is drunk or in this recent situation two deaths over the misuse of a laser light. Really Judith has distorted notions of how to stop or prevent crime, obviously she really believe those lost lives were justification for the criminal behaviour that took place and that the police were just doing their jobs. I wonder how Judith Collins and this government believe that condoning and being responsible for upholding this killing policy is all in the call of duty. Nor can the police diminish or justify the fact that because only a small minority of deaths occur result out of police pursuits it makes it right. It is not an acceptable trade off even one death, it is one to many for the sake of a stolen car or intoxicated driver.

    The government needs to take a good look at teenage behaviour and teenage brain development, perhaps if they understood that wayward teens who misbehave are not always criminals fleeing or if they are they do not deserve to have their life destroyed.The aggressive policing and manner in which the judicial process deals with teens is now under review. The system as it stands does everything it can to produce as many teen criminals as possible, it encourages and cultivates a criminal teen with the way it it deals with wayward behaviour. It does little or nothing to prevent it, it does little or nothing to implement positive psychology or holistic treatment with positive benefits that it should adopt, this stance would reduce teen crime, reduce recidivism, cost less to the tax payer and most importantly prevent loss of life, and enable wayward teens to become responsible adults. Every person in prison was once a child and teenager, most of them would not be there if they had been treated differently by the system.


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