A Whakatane police officer pepper sprayed a 10-year-old girl and her mother, but it was carelessness, rather than a deliberate act, the Independent Police Conduct Authority has found.

The girl and her mother were in a car that had been stopped by police and the officer's use of spray in a confined space, in the circumstances, has been deemed careless.

At 5.40pm on September 11 last year, police arrested a man driving a Toyota Hilux, who had failed to stop on Paul St, Whakatane.

The man had refused to give his name or provide his driver licence to police and repeatedly raised Maori sovereignty issues.

The officer thought the man was going to drive off, so he put his arm through the partially open driver's window to try to unlock the driver's door.

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Another officer came to help and police say the man trapped both officers' arms in the car window. The two officers as well as the man used force but the order of events and level of force used was disputed.

One of the officers then used his pepper spray on the man and he was pulled out of the car and handcuffed.

The child's mother complained to the authority that police had deliberately sprayed the three of them.

The authority accepted that the 10-year-old girl was badly affected by the pepper spray, but found the officer did not deliberately spray her or the woman.

Authority chairman Judge Sir David Carruthers said the use of pepper spray in the situation had not been carefully considered.

"There is no doubt that this was a dynamic situation. However, when spraying the man, the officer did not properly consider the necessity of using pepper spray in a confined space, the likelihood that it would affect the other innocent passengers or the fact that he was using a more powerful spray."

Although the authority was ready to release its report in September this year, ongoing court proceedings prevented it from doing so.

Whakatane Area Commander Inspector Kevin Taylor said police apologised for the "unnecessary distress and pain this caused [the girl]".

"She also had to witness an incident that could have been completely avoided if the driver had complied with his legal requirement to provide his details.

"What should have been a routine traffic stop quickly degenerated into a volatile scenario.

"In situations like these, events unfold rapidly and decisions need to be made quickly.

"Our officers responded to the situation confronting them to protect themselves and keep the community safe."