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Police response to IPCA report on death of Halatau Naitoko

Title: Police response to IPCA report on death of Halatau Naitoko

Police deeply regret the accidental death of Halatau Naitoko in 2009 and have already implemented changes to address all recommendations made by the Independent Police Conduct Authority.

Police were confronted by a drug-fuelled and armed Stephen McDonald on Auckland's north western motorway in January 2009. He had fired at police and Eagle helicopter and had threatened members of the public during a chase which lasted more than an hour.

Stephen McDonald was sentenced to 13 years in prison after being convicted on a range of serious charges. In sentencing Justice Harrison told McDonald he had no doubt he was responsible for the death of Mr Naitoko.

Police had no option but to take action to stop Mr McDonald as he attempted to jump on a moving truck on the motorway while aiming his gun at two officers within close range. Mr McDonald was injured and incapacitated but tragically Mr Naitoko who was driving a van that was moving past was hit by a bullet and killed and the driver of the truck, Richard Neville was hit by fragments and injured.

"We are deeply and sincerely regretful for the role we played in Mr Naitoko's death," said Assistant Commissioner Allan Boreham. "The officers involved, and wider police staff, remain deeply affected by his death. It is something no police officer ever wants to happen."

"Our hearts go out to the Naitoko family. They have had to endure intense scrutiny since their son's tragic death and despite the many investigations and recommendations nothing will ever be able to put right that day for them. They have conducted themselves dignity throughout this ordeal and we are truly sorry for their devastating loss."

Mr Boreham said police also wanted to acknowledge Richard Neville who was injured as a result of this confrontation and who has worked with police to resolve this since. "It has been a life changing event for him."

The IPCA found it was satisfied that the officers involved properly took immediate action in the face of the threat presented by McDonald. It said their actions in confronting him were commendable.

"The officers involved put themselves directly in the line of fire to stop Stephen McDonald. They acted with significant courage which makes this situation even more difficult. As police our first duty is to protect the public from harm, we go to work to save lives," said Mr Boreham.

The IPCA found that Mr Naitoko's death and the wounding of Mr Neville and Stephen McDonald was the tragic outcome of a rare combination of events. The report stated: "Mr McDonald had one objective and that was to evade arrest by any means, including entering homes and demanding vehicles, presenting a firearm at police and members of the public, firing at police including the Police Eagle helicopter, and driving in a manner that showed total disregard for his own safety and the safety of others."

Mr Boreham said Police had critically examined the events of the day. "We have had the Coroner's report and now the IPCA report but nobody could have been harder on us than we have been on ourselves.

"This was a unique situation. Confronting an armed and dangerous offender, no matter the level of training or experience will cause considerable stress. A moving gunman in a heavily populated area will always present risks. The officers had no control over these factors but were nonetheless called upon to carry out their duty. And they did resolve the situation."

The IPCA has stated that the actions of the offender precluded the safe use of any tactical options other than foot pursuit and the use of firearms. Firing at an offender on a motorway was never a safe tactical option. The entire situation which resulted from the actions of the offender was unsafe to all concerned.

"There were deficiencies in our performance that day, and as a result we have already made significant changes to the way we do things and have implemented all recommendations made by the IPCA," Mr Boreham said.

The seven recommendations made by the IPCA to Police are:

• Reinforce the requirement that all staff logon to the communications system

"We already have a system in place for ensuring all staff log on and vehicles are monitored."

• Review command training for communications centres shift commanders and support for them during critical incidents

"In our communications centres we have reviewed our command framework used, we have changed the way our staff are deployed within the centres during these incidents, we have more trained staff at higher ranks and we have more training around complex, dynamic situations with scenario training and exercises to keep the staff at an appropriate level of readiness."

• Provide access to AOS radio communications by communications centres

"This is not technically feasible but the new systems in place ensure communication occurs between incident commanders and AOS commanders so that all information is known and relayed. The Auckland district now has secure radio communications."

• Review Auckland AOS planning with regard to the number of members available to respond to incidents

"This has already been done. We have structures in place to ensure that sufficient staff are available at all times. "

• Clarify the role of eagle in critical incidents and develop its capability as a command and control platform

"The role of Eagle has been clarified. It is used primarily as an observation platform."

• Review the efficacy of the AOS weapons training.

"We now have the simulator for training staff in a range of scenarios involving armed incidents. However this is the most challenging situation that could be faced by police. The offender was moving and unpredictable, the environment was moving and they were directly under threat. All staff not just AOS are trained to deal with an armed offender as often the event is over much too quickly for AOS to be deployed. So all staff are required to be qualified in the use of firearms.

"We have an active shooter policy which staff and communications centres staff are trained in, and this differs from our cordon and contain policy where an offender stays in one place.

"We have greater access to firearms for all staff and this was a factor in this incident.

"We review every critical incident and retain those learnings so we can improve our ability to deal with such events

• Develop a more structured, transparent and comprehensive post critical incident policy
"There have been many changes made in these areas including our interviewing procedures, our policy has been reviewed and we also rely on medical experts to advise us when our staff are ready to return to these duties."

This incident has come under the scrutiny of the Courts, the Coroner and the IPCA. They have all said this was a rare set of events that resulted in tragic outcome.


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