Report claims 'no political influence' on protest response by NZ police, but questions remain

Despite officers' beliefs, the report finds no improper interference in handling protesters at anti-mandate rally.

Report claims 'no political influence' on protest response by NZ police, but questions remain
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A report has found there was no political influence over the police response to Covid mandate protesters occupying Parliamentary grounds last year, despite the fact many police officers believed otherwise.

The Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) report, released this week, said there was no “undue political interference”.

But it also said that "many" officers interviewed believed the operation to move in on protesters "had resulted from strong political pressure".

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said he was satisfied that the 225-page IPCA report cleared the government of any improper influence in police operations.

"There was no improper political pressure exerted on the Police Commissioner," he said.

The report described how, on February 9, 2022, the then-Deputy Prime Minister and the Attorney General had visited then-Speaker Trevor Mallard's office "to discuss developments and offer support".

"Both were concerned at the rapid growth in the size of the protest group,” the report said.

The Speaker then contacted the Assistant Commissioner and “communicated his view police should remove protesters from Parliament grounds".

The Assistant Commissioner spoke to Police Commissioner Andrew Coster who then contacted the Speaker, Deputy Prime Minister, and Attorney General for what he described as “an uncomfortable” conversation.

It was after that meeting that Coster directed the Assistant Commissioner to ensure protesters were cleared from the grounds of Parliament the following day.

Coster told the watchdog he had “reached his own independent judgement” about the need to act.

The report said the Assistant Commissioner believed there was an “order from the Commissioner” to act and so he communicated that to the Local Controller.

The Local Controller, however, told IPCA that he believed “the final decision was still his”.

The report said the Local Controller could have chosen not to proceed if he believed it impracticable to do so, "but otherwise the Commissioner's expectations would be adhered to".

Police on the frontline told IPCA “it was obvious to them from early in the operation (although not necessarily before) that it would not succeed” and that they believed the operation would not have occurred without political pressure.

"Some inferred that this pressure crossed the line and intruded on police operational independence," the report said.

The report found the Speaker, as the occupier of Parliament, was entitled to express his views to police "like any other occupier whose premises are unlawfully occupied by others".

Frustration with the failure of police to intervene earlier did not amount to political interference.

"The Commissioner was equally entitled to agree with or reject his view, and in making that determination was under a duty to consider not only the rights of the Speaker as occupier but the wider interests of the community as well as the rights of the protesters," the report said.

"The assertion of a strong view by the Speaker, or for that matter by any other Minister, will only cross the bounds of propriety if accompanied by some express or implied inducement or threat of disadvantage. There is nothing to suggest anything of that nature."

National's police spokesperson Mark Mitchell said questions remained after the report.

"Why did the Police Commissioner send a message to his senior team that a response to the protest was expected the next day, immediately following an 'uncomfortable discussion' he had with the Deputy Prime Minister, Attorney General and Speaker of the House on 9 March?" he said.

"Why did the tactics and operation suddenly have a change in direction following this meeting?

"Why were no records kept or available to the IPCA detailing the conversations between Ministers and senior Police officers? Many frontline Police officers felt political pressure had been used to try to stop a protest that was embarrassing to the Government.”

 

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