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9 February 2017
The Independent Police Conduct Authority has found that a Police officer’s investigation into a crash involving an off-duty officer fell short of the expected standard and was not sufficiently thorough and accurate.
In particular, delays and the failure to manage a perceived conflict of interest appropriately, led the victim of the crash to believe that Police were trying to protect the off-duty officer.
The crash occurred in Taranaki on 6 November 2015, when a female driver had to swerve to avoid a head on collision with the off-duty officer who had pulled onto her side of the road to overtake a truck. She suffered minor injuries to her face and hand and her vehicle was damaged in the resulting crash.
The Police officer investigating the crash decided to issue the off-duty officer with a written traffic warning, rather than prosecuting him, as long as the off-duty officer paid reparation to the female driver. However the parties failed to reach an agreement regarding the full amount of reparation.
The female driver complained to the Authority in March 2016, stating that Police had not yet charged the off-duty officer and she was concerned that Police were treating him more favourably than they would an ordinary member of the public. Following her complaint, the officer was charged with careless driving in April 2016, and pleaded guilty to that charge in June 2016.
“The investigating officer should have investigated the crash more thoroughly”, said Authority Chair, Judge Sir David Carruthers. “The decision to issue a written traffic warning to the off-duty officer was not appropriate in the circumstances.
The investigating officer did not communicate clearly with both parties about what he intended the outcome to be. This caused them to have different views about whether the off-duty officer would be charged for causing the crash.
The Authority also determined that the investigating officer had failed to recognise and manage the risk that the female driver and other members of the public might perceive that he had a conflict of interest in investigating a crash caused by a fellow officer. He should have notified a supervisor of the investigation, and sought advice about a suitable outcome.