Back in 2009 Police were called to an "out of control" party in Wellington. When they got there, they found that, contrary to reports, there was no fighting in the street outside. The hosts told them there was no problem, and that they did not need assistance. The police did not believe them. So they broke into the house, smashing windows in the process, and beat those inside to get them to disperse - in the process breaking someone's neck. In the aftermath, when people complained to them and the IPCA, they leaked information about them in an effort to discredit them. And now the Independent Police Conduct Authority has ruled that all of that was unlawful:
An Independent Police Conduct Authority report has found that Police acted contrary to law in entering a private residence on Homebush Road, Khandallah, Wellington in the early hours of 5 September 2009.Miraculously, the police, who just last year had published a self-serving whitewash clearing all their officers of any wrongdoing, have now accepted the IPCA's findings. Which raises an obvious question: will the officers involved face charges? Because looking at their description of events, there are prima facie cases for trespass, criminal damage, burglary, aggravated burglary ("burglary with a weapon"), assault, injuring with intent and wounding with intent. Not to mention misuse of official information.
The Authority today released the results of its independent investigation into the actions of members of the Tactical Policing Unit who shut down the private party using unnecessary, excessive force in the process.
Independent Police Conduct Authority Chair Judge Sir David Carruthers said today although the Tactical Policing Unit was responding to a call from a partygoer concerned about the behaviour of gatecrashers, the decision to close the party down was contrary to law.
“The force used to remove partygoers from the house in an effort to shut down the party was also excessive and contrary to law.
“The action of a Tactical Policing Unit officer in striking one of the partygoers with a baton, using excessive force, was also contrary to law. Medical records show that this young man sustained a displaced fracture of the C7 spinous process, or a broken neck, as a result of the officer’s action,” Sir David said.
The police must obey the law. If they don't, they are nothing more than a gang with a fancy uniform (and that's exactly how they have behaved in this incident). Sadly, the police don't give us much cause for confidence here: the IPCA specifically finds they unjustly apply a different standard to investigating their own officers than to ordinary members of the public. But if the police won't uphold the law, then the people will have to - through private prosecutions.
The IPCA is also recommending changes around how the police deal with parties. Good. The current situation - where the police apparently regard parties as riots in progress, demand that they be "registered" (implying that you need their permission to exercise your freedom of assembly in your own home), and shut them down on a whim - is a cause of public disorder, not a cure for it. The police need to change their approach. The question is whether they'll learn their lesson, or continue with the same pig-headed approach which has caused these problems.
Update: And bingo, the police announce that they will not discipline their home-invading, neck-breaking officers. Which strongly suggests they won't charge them either. And then they wonder why people have no faith in them...