There were more than 50 complaints made about police conduct in 2020, many of which amounted to “simple rudeness”, according to investigators.
Several of the more serious allegations against officers, including some relating to excessive use of force, were not substantiated by the Ombudsman, which has responsibility for investigating police complaints.
However, in some cases disciplinary action was recommended, such as the highly publicised incident in the early days of lockdown, where an officer was captured on camera striking a dirt biker with a baton following a 72-minute chase.
The Ombudsman received 57 new complaints about police conduct in 2020, in addition to the 24 carried forward from the previous year. A total of 66 cases were closed by way of informal resolution or investigation.
The office conducted 14 investigations, of which three were supported, meaning there was enough evidence to substantiate some of the allegations and action was recommended. Even in cases where the complaint was not substantiated, Ombudsman Sandy Hermiston suggested concerns were raised around a perceived lack of respect from officers.
“Too many of our police-related complaints concern simple rudeness or unprofessional conduct, even in cases where the officer has done everything procedurally ‘by the book’,” she wrote in the report.
“Police officers can still enforce our laws while acting in a professional and cordial manner and we will hold them to that standard.”
One of the complaints filed alleged an inadequate investigation into the theft of high-value construction materials.
The case was closed with no leads. Months later the complainant alerted police after ‘playing detective’ himself and finding some of the items for sale in a second-hand store. When there was still no progress in the investigation, he alerted the Ombudsman, the report indicates.
After inquiries from the office, it emerged that the investigating officer had retired and the lead had not been pursued. The investigation was reassigned, the stolen property was returned and the complaint was dropped.
A number of other complaints were resolved informally, after intervention from the Ombudsman. Those included concerns about a child that suffered a minor injury during the execution of a search warrant and a complaint from a man who lost his job after being publicly arrested at his workplace.
On another occasion, a complaint about the behaviour of firearms officers during the search of a home was resolved through mediation between the parties.
Complaints that were not supported by the Ombudsman included the legitimate confiscation of electronic devices as part of an investigation and complaints of unnecessary use of force where the officers’ actions, on investigation, were shown to be proportionate.