Police detention and treatment of people ruled unlawful
Authority finds Christchurch Police detention and treatment of people unlawful
The Independent Police Conduct Authority today released its report on the actions of Christchurch Police in temporarily closing Maces Road on 18 February 2012 to check approximately 200 vehicles congregated in the area.
In releasing the report Independent Police Conduct Authority Chair, Judge Sir David Carruthers said while the Authority accepts that Police needed to act to control the situation given their concern about the large number of people gathered and possible disorder, their detention of people, in some cases for more than six hours, and their treatment of them during this time, was unlawful and a breach of human rights.
At about 7pm on Saturday 18 February 2012 a number of vehicles gathered on Maces Road in Bromley, Christchurch for an event described by those attending as a charity ‘cruise’ to gain donations for the Christchurch earthquake appeal.
Police became aware of the possibility of the ‘cruise’ and attended the area. They observed a large number of vehicles congregating on Maces Road with over 200 people present. Police also witnessed some cars doing burn-outs and some disorder. Concerned that there was public disorder as well as a danger to members of the public, a decision was made to temporarily close Maces Road to control the scene and check the vehicles.
The Police Support Unit took control of the situation using a loud hailer to instruct people to get into their car and stay inside otherwise they would be arrested. Police gradually got all vehicles in a line, facing the same direction towards the intersection of Ruru Road where the checkpoint was located. At the checkpoint NZTA staff inspected the vehicles while Police checked driver details.
Due to the large number of vehicles present this process took almost seven hours to complete, with Maces Road not being reopened until 2am on Sunday 19 February 2012.
Following this operation the Authority received 31 complaints from people who were at Maces Road that evening. Common issues from those complaints included being detained and the length of time people were detained; the lack of access to toilet facilities, food and water; Police videoing people without consent and Police being dressed in riot gear and their attitude during the operation.
“The Authority has found that given the significant number of vehicles and people present, observed burn-outs and risk of injury to the public from vehicles being driven dangerously, the initial decision by Police to temporarily close Maces Road was reasonable and logical. However, Police had no power to instruct drivers and passengers to get into their cars and warn them they would be arrested if they got out. This action was unlawful,” Sir David said.
“The Authority also found that the manner of treatment by Police to those unlawfully detained by depriving them access to basic necessities was disrespectful and degrading. It did not comply with Police’s obligation to treat people with humanity and respect and accordingly breached their human rights. In addition Police should not have video recorded the drivers and passengers,” Sir David said.
The Authority notes that Police have already made some changes to practice and policy following this incident. Current policy in relation to photographing people is very general in nature and restricted to road blocks. Accordingly, the Authority recommends that Police review their policy in relation to photographing or recording people and provide more detailed guidance to Police staff on this issue.