New cases of police abuse in spotlight

By Elizabeth Binning

New claims of police abuse in Counties-Manukau, including a man injured during an arrest at a service station, are under investigation.

The claims were disclosed this week following a six-month inquiry into whether a "sick culture" existed in Counties-Manukau police.

Inquiry head Sir David Tompkins highlighted 20 cases of police using excessive force in a five-year period.

Counties-Manukau police spokeswoman Angeline Barlow said in some cases the alleged victims did not want to lay complaints. In other instances, those involved could not be identified, and cases had been or were now under investigation.

One incident occurred in January when five officers were accused of acting "too aggressively" while arresting a man who had threatened to blow up a service station.

In his report, Sir David, who watched the arrest on security camera footage, said: "Two dogs were involved. The petrol supply was turned off so there was no immediate threat. With up to five officers present there should have been no need for kicks, punches and the use of OC [pepper] spray."

An officer told the Herald that many Counties-Manukau police were yesterday left feeling frustrated by the examples of "excessive force", as they did not accurately reflect the situation the officers were in.

"That [the service station incident] infers there were five policemen in this garage forecourt and then suddenly this guy's got all these injuries on him. There is nothing about the fact he was trying to burn the place down. He had a lighter in his hand and was flicking it with a petrol pump in the other hand."

Police Association president Greg O'Connor said many police were also frustrated at the lack of focus on the positive parts of Sir David's findings.

The main point, exonerating South Auckland police of "sick culture", had been missed.

Mr O'Connor said most police officers working in the busy district knew that such a culture did not exist and had hoped that would be the focus of media coverage.

"If you were working in South Auckland in March you had this sword hanging over you that you were part of a sick culture and now it is clear that that's not the case."

Mr O'Connor said the blue code of silence - a reason some cases of abuse were not reported - did exist but it did not mean an incident went unnoticed - it was just handled differently, with a warning or arrest threat if it happened again.

The inquiry

* Ordered by Police Commissioner Rob Robinson after a judge suggested there was a "sick culture" in Counties-Manukau police.

* Headed by retired High Court Judge Sir David Tompkins, who found no evidence of a "sick culture".

* He did find about 20 cases of excessive force, some which are new and not reported because of a "blue code of silence".

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