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The IPCA report, released yesterday, found there was sufficient evidence to prosecute two Christchurch officers, Senior Constables Gary Donnelly, a dog handler, and Dougal Adams, a scene of crime officer, who were allegedly poaching from a road in Central Otago on January 21, 2016 while off-duty.
But it found the decision not to prosecute the officers was "reasonable and justifiable on public interest grounds".
The report has been greeted with disbelief by two of those who complained to the IPCA.
Omakau farmer Steve Brown said he felt "incredibly disappointed and let down" by the IPCA’s findings, which he said set a dangerous precedent that might make it difficult to bring other poaching prosecutions.
Shannon Parker, whose watchdog group the New Zealand Police Conduct Association represented a group of hunters who also complained about the case, said her criticisms of the double standards for police and members of the public for illegal hunting prosecutions remained.
"There are many media reports in the district where police have been quoted saying they are taking a hard line on poaching allegations. It would appear these comments were limited to civilians and not their own. Southern district police are very strict to the point of ridiculousness in many cases on anyone who could be perceived to be illegally hunting. Based on this, I fail to see how this [failure to prosecute the officers] couldn’t be viewed as anything other than selective law enforcement."
Another farmer who complained to the IPCA had not read the report and declined to comment, and Central Otago farmer Andrew Paterson, who is an Otago executive member of Federated Farmers, which also complained to the IPCA, could not be contacted.
The IPCA report found a number of shortcomings and delays with the police investigation gave the appearance the two Christchurch officers received favourable treatment.
It also found the two Central Otago officers who attended the alleged poaching incident should have conducted a more thorough scene examination, did not follow standard investigative procedure and did not properly understand the law on unlawful hunting.
This increased the risk the public would perceive a conflict existed, and the long investigation and periods of inaction gave the impression police were treating the off-duty officers favourably and the matter was being "covered up", the report said.
The IPCA said the two officers accused of illegal hunting should have received formal warnings, but said the decision not to prosecute was reasonable. The offending was low-level (no shots were fired or animals killed) and possibly unintentional, which meant there were genuine public interest reasons not to prosecute, the report said.
A police statement said police accepted the IPCA’s findings.
Southern district commander Superintendent Paul Basham said he acknowledged "the depth of feeling across the Central Otago community regarding illegal hunting which, to some extent, results from the inconsistency in how police have responded to such incidents in the past".
The Southern district had already reviewed the response to illegal hunting incidents, with the District Command Centre taking initial supervision of the incident attendance. A district working group would provide guidance to staff.
Canterbury district commander Superintendent John Price said Senior Constables Donnelly and Adams had "undergone an employment process which has been completed. For privacy reasons we cannot go into these details".