We're sorry - police

 Two Central Otago teenagers have received letters of apology from the district's highest-ranking police officer for the unacceptable actions of some police officers earlier this year.

The one and a-half page letters, which were written and hand-delivered by Central Otago sub-area supervisor Senior Sergeant Ian Kerrisk last month, relate to a series of incidents - where the teenagers were falsely accused of committing petty crimes, and the subsequent unprofessional treatment and alleged harassment of the teenagers - over a period of time several months ago.

The harassment included the teenagers and one of their homes being searched by police without informed consent, an officer allegedly manhandling and threatening one of the teenagers and police repeatedly parking outside one of the teenager's homes.

A parent of one of the teenagers said their family was grateful for the apology and particularly the way Snr Sgt Kerrisk had resolved the issue once it came to his attention.

In the letters, Snr Sgt Kerrisk acknowledged some of the incidents and named two of the officers involved in two of the most serious incidents. Both officers recently left the police force.

In the letters, Snr Sgt Kerrisk apologised for the distress caused to the teenagers.

''I am satisfied that you have not received the level of service or treatment from police staff that you deserve. I am satisfied that the officers' actions were part of their policing method and not any personal vendetta against you ... but I am also satisfied that their actions were not in accordance with the policies and protocols of the NZ police.''

The News emailed a series of questions to police about the incidents.

They included whether the departure of the two officers from the police force had anything to do with the incidents mentioned in Snr Sgt Kerrisk's letter; if another officer - who made the initial accusation, without any evidence, that the boys had done the petty crime - faced any disciplinary action; whether another two teenagers eventually found to have been responsible for the petty crime had been dealt with through the police system; whether any other complaints had been received about the officers mentioned in the letter of apology from police; and if the involvement of several police officers in the alleged misconduct and harassment showed a negative culture existed among Central Otago police.

Southern district police communications manager Vivien Pullar replied with a statement to be attributed to Snr Sgt Kerrisk that said: ''Police can't comment publicly on the detail of individual cases.

However, police have worked to resolve the original concerns raised by the families in relation to the matters you've [The News] outlined. If their concerns continue, there is an opportunity to make a formal complaint either directly to police or via the IPCA [Independent Police Conduct Authority].''

Snr Sgt Kerrisk had immediately agreed to meet representatives of the teenagers to discuss their concerns once he was informed of the issue.

Snr Sgt Kerrisk - who was on leave while the initial incidents occurred and only became aware of them when contacted by the family of one of the teenagers when he returned to work - was not involved in any of the incidents of the alleged harassment and misconduct. He

immediately apologised on behalf of his officers, said he was determined to resolve the issue and told the teenagers and their families they had the option of making a formal complaint to police and/or the IPCA.

Snr Sgt Kerrisk also said he would report the alleged incidents to his superior and discuss the issue with the two main officers involved, and he did both of those things, the parent said.

The teenagers involved also praised the actions of Snr Sgt Kerrisk and said they were pleased they had received formal apologies but they wished the initial, unfounded accusation and subsequent incidents - which caused them considerable stress over several months - had never happened in the first place.

Several people aware of this case have told The News they think there needs to be a public meeting in Central Otago to allow people to air their concerns about the range of recent incidents involving misconduct by Central Otago officers and former officers. This would allow police to ''clear the air'', remind people most police officers are doing good work and allow members of the public to regain their faith in the police.

The News asked police if they would consider holding a meeting, but they did not respond.

Excerpts from the police letter of apology 

Ian Kerrisk
Ian Kerrisk

- ''You outlined in your concerns that you had been blamed for [incidents of petty crime] and had been targeted [by police] since then.''

- ''I have spoken to the officers, and [name of police officer] has acknowledged ... the incident of an altercation [with one of the teenagers]. He expressed regret that they [that and other incidents] had occurred but explained it was an `old-fashioned policing style' that he had.''

- ''I am satisfied that you have not received the level of service or treatment from police staff that you deserve. I am satisfied that the officers' actions were part of their policing method and not any personal vendetta against you ... but I am also satisfied that their actions were not in accordance with the policies and protocols of the NZ police.''

- ''I ... take this opportunity ... to offer an apology to you and your family for the distress that this has caused. I accept that your view of police has been tarnished and regret that, but hope that through this apology I can help change your views towards the police, especially at a local level.''

- Senior Sergeant Ian Kerrisk, Central Otago sub area supervisor 

Family praise boss, but say 'stay informed of rights'

The teenagers who received a police apology for alleged police misconduct and harassment say they want the public to be aware of two things.

The first thing the teenagers and their supporters want is for people to recognise the ''excellent leadership'' of Central Otago sub-area supervisor Senior Sergeant Ian Kerrisk, who they say took their concerns seriously, apologised to the teenagers for how they had been treated by police and is determined that police officers act profession-ally.

It was the determined work of Snr Sgt Kerrisk that finally resolved the issue and led to the formal apologies, the parent of one of the teenagers said.

The second thing they want is for families and teenagers to be informed of their rights when dealing with police.

Teenagers needed to realise police had an important job to do and teenagers needed to be respectful in their dealings with police, but police in turn should not abuse their position and harass teenagers, the parent said.

The News asked police what advice they had for teenagers and their families about their rights and responsibilities regarding police but the police provided no response.

For more information about rights and responsibilities of the public and police go to www.police.govt.nz or www.communitylaw.org.nz

Timeline

The incidents of unprofessional police treatment of two teenagers - for which the teenagers have received a police apology - started with an accusation by a Central Otago officer (Officer ''X'') that the teenagers could have been responsible for a series of petty crime incidents earlier this year.

July 9: Family say there was no evidence the two teenagers had been involved in the incidents, but one of the officer's colleagues (Officer ''Y'') then went to the homes of both the teenagers and said police suspected the teenagers were responsible for the incidents.

July 11: Officer ''Y'' stopped the two teenagers and another associate while they were in town at night. The officer, who was not with any other officers at the time, asked the teenagers to turn their pockets out and then allegedly manhandled and threatened one of the teenagers.

July 16: Officer ''Y'' and another officer, (Officer ''Z''), visited one of the teenagers at their home, saying they were looking for another person and asking to search the house for the other person. The teenager initially said the police could not enter the house, but then under duress allowed the officers to enter the house. The officers then searched the entire house, including looking in cupboards, shelves and drawers.

July 19: A fourth officer phoned the landlord of one of the teenagers and said police suspected the teenagers of committing the petty crime.

After this incident, the parents of one of the teenagers contacted police about their concerns; the concerns also included police parking repeatedly outside one of the teenager's homes, and members of the family of Officer ''X'' contacting the parents of one of the teenagers to repeat their accusations, and making comments to that effect to both of the teenagers at their school. When Snr Sgt Kerrisk learned of the concerns he immediately agreed to meet representatives of the boys.

July 23: The meeting took place. Snr Sgt Kerrisk apologised verbally to the teenagers on behalf of the officers involved, and advised them and their families they could make a formal complaint to police and/or the Independent Police Conduct Authority. However, other officers were still investigating the petty crime and the case remained open. The family of one of the teenagers continued to ask for the case to be closed and the teenagers to be officially taken off the suspect list for the petty crime.

August 14: Police told the family of one of the teenagers the teenager would ''never need to be spoken to about the incident'', but no formal or written apology was made.

About October 19: Officer ''X'' stopped one of the teenagers in public and said two other teenagers had been found to be responsible for the petty crime.

November 12: Snr Sgt Kerrisk confirmed other teenagers had been found to be responsible for the petty crime and said he would write to the two teenagers falsely accused of the crime and apologise on behalf of Officers ''X'' and ''Y''.

November 28: Snr Sgt Kerrisk hand-delivered both letters to one of the teenager's homes. The letters specifically mentioned the teenager's house being searched by officers, the alleged threatening of one of the teenagers and a police search of one of the teenager's bags without their consent, and named and apologised for the officers involved in those incidents, Officers ''Y'' and ''Z''. The letter also said both of those officers had recently left the police force, and therefore no internal action could be taken.

The letter does not name Officer ''X'' who made the initial accusation and is still serving as a police officer in Central Otago. The News asked police why that officer was not named in the letter of apology, but police did not respond.

 

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