A Whangārei woman wants an audit of the police complaints process, claiming Northland police are breaking the law by not forwarding complaints to be investigated.

Whangārei-based Shannon Parker, of watchdog group the New Zealand Police Conduct Association, which helps people with their issues around police processes and interactions, said Northland police were failing to report complaints to the Independent Police Complaints Authority as they were required to do under law.

She said it was nothing more than an attempt to fudge numbers and make themselves look better.

Northland police District Commander Superintendent Tony Hill was aware of the allegations and made it clear police had acknowledged to the Independent Police Conduct Authority there was a minor process issue around handling complaints but that had since been remedied.

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Hill said it involved a very small number of complaints, about five, that came from the Northland District and despite the fact all those complaints were followed up, it was not notified to the authority.

"I can confidently say that there was no attempt to try to cover up or hide complaint numbers. Police are very open around this and all complaint statistics are readily available on the police data website," Hill said.

"I stand by my statement around ensuring there is a robust process in place to manage complaints however what I would say is that from time-to-time like all people, police staff can make mistakes, and the important thing is that we acknowledge them and rectify the situation as soon as possible."

Superintendent Tony Hill said there was no attempt to try to cover up or hide complaint numbers. Photo / Michael Cunningham
Superintendent Tony Hill said there was no attempt to try to cover up or hide complaint numbers. Photo / Michael Cunningham

Parker called for an immediate audit of complaints received by police throughout all districts including Police National Headquarters to ensure the authority had been notified of all complaints made against police.

Hill said Northland police had no plans to carry out an audit.

Parker said: "This is really disappointing to see because in general people want to have trust and confidence in the police. The public should be able to trust that police are following legislation."

Under law the police commissioner must notify the authority of every complaint received by police as soon as practicable, but no later than five working days after receiving the complaint.

Parker said she was alerted to the issue when she received a letter from a senior Northland police officer in reply to a complaint she had lodged on behalf of a client.

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She said the letter did not have a complaint number and it did not advise a complaint outcome, either upheld or not upheld, and there was no referral to the authority, which was standard.

The same senior officer emailed Parker and said it was a matter for police discretion as to how to deal with each complaint.

Parker called the authority and discovered it had no knowledge of the complaint and it had not been notified.

Parker said failing to lodge a complaint with the authority was a breach of legislation and a formal complaint had been lodged with the authority, with a list of examples.

All but one complaint example was sent directly to the police commissioner and five of the examples related to Northland Police, Parker said.

By failing to lodge the complaints meant police statistics were incorrect.

In April this year police released professional conduct statistics which reported complaints against police were the lowest in Northland during 2018, with 102 incidents reported.

The police district with the highest number of complaints was Canterbury, with 317, followed by Wellington, 280, and Auckland City, 240.

The police conduct report also recorded whether the investigation into the allegation was ongoing or completed and, in the case of the latter, if the complaint was upheld.

In Northland, the 102 incidents involved 135 staff members, with 152 allegations being made.

Last year investigators had completed 74 incidents and upheld 17 complaints in Northland.

Northland complaints for service failure totalled 34, use of force on duty 19 and unprofessional 18. There were also three incidents of off-duty conduct reported and one incident of using police resources.

Commenting after the release of the statistics at the time, Hill said police officers in Northland were held to a high professional standard, as the community would expect.

Hill said police took any complaint regarding staff conduct seriously and any information was investigated thoroughly.

"I want to reassure the public that there is a robust process in place to manage complaints around police conduct. Every matter is reviewed to identify any opportunities for lessons that can be learned going forward."