Police decided against charges

Police decided not to prosecute an officer involved in an incident with off-duty officers, it has been revealed.

This month police were ordered by the Office of the Ombudsman to release details on disciplinary action following the 2008 incident.

In a statement to the Otago Daily Times, Southern District commander Superintendent Andrew Coster named the officer as Constable Greg Dunne, a former detective sergeant.

Supt Coster, when asked to provide details of the incident, replied: ''This incident relates to off-duty behaviour and was the subject of appropriate police disciplinary action''.

He declined to release further details of the incident, citing privacy reasons.

Const Dunne, when contacted yesterday, said there were a number of errors in last week's ODT story, but declined to elaborate.

In his statement, Supt Coster confirmed ''concerns about Detective Sergeant Dunne's behaviour at a social gathering of police employees were brought to the attention of his employers by senior officers also in attendance''.

As a result, a preliminary investigation was carried out, which led to a disciplinary hearing.

''Disciplinary action was instituted,'' Supt Coster said.

As a consequence, the former detective sergeant was demoted to the rank of constable, and suspended - on full pay - for a period of less than three weeks, Supt Coster confirmed.

''Criminal charges were considered, but the police applied the facts of the alleged offending to the Solicitor-general's prosecution guidelines and decided not to prosecute on the basis that a prosecution would not be in the public interest, as it was likely it would not succeed.''

When asked if Const Dunne was treated differently because he was a police officer, Supt Coster said ''members of police are subject to the same scrutiny as any person would be in cases of alleged criminal offending''.

''More often than not, the jeopardy to a police officer's employment resulting from a criminal offence is greater than that which would arise through a criminal prosecution.''

University of Canterbury criminologist Prof Greg Newbold said any case against officers should be ''an independent decision''.

''The police should not be the ones making the decision to prosecute their own kind,'' he said.

Supt Coster said Crown prosecution guidelines required police to consider the likelihood that a prosecution should succeed in light of the evidence available.

The evidential standards for criminal prosecutions ''beyond reasonable doubt'' was higher that those applied to those in an employment context, ''on the balance of probabilities''.

''In this case, the assessment was that the threshold for criminal prosecution was not met.''

Supt Coster said: ''In this case, the conduct complained of was off-duty and involved only members of police.''

This month, the Ombudsman formed a final opinion that much of what the Otago Daily Times requested under the Official Information Act could be withheld because of privacy.

''However, in responding to information requests about how the police deal with complaints about serving police officers, the public interest in the accountability of the police and public confidence in the police require release of a summary that confirms the steps taken to ensure that concerns about an officer's conduct were thoroughly investigated and that any appropriate disciplinary action was taken.''