The scene of the attempted arrest at the Tikipunga shopping centre on March 3, 2022. Photo / Michael Cunningham
Whangārei police were unjustified in using a taser and shooting at the tyres of a car belonging to a man with numerous arrest warrants, the Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) has found.
The authority found the fact that no one was injured, or even killed, in this incident ‘‘is remarkable and owed entirely to luck”.
The attempted arrest of the man, in Whangārei on March 3 last year, was “poorly planned and executed” and the use of a firearm was unjustified, according to the IPCA report.
The Authority also found that police failed to adequately investigate the actions of the officers involved.
During the arrest attempt, officers tried to block the 38-year-old’s vehicle with a police car, but he reversed into it and accelerated away, crashing into other vehicles at Tikipunga shopping centre on Paramount Parade.
An officer fired his taser twice through the car window, and another officer fired two shots from a pistol at the car. The man, referred to as Mr X, drove away and later abandoned his car and escaped on foot. He was arrested five days later in Auckland.
“Police should not have attempted to arrest Mr X at this time because of the significant risk of serious harm to members of the public, Mr X, and officers,” Authority chair Judge Colin Doherty said.
Firing a taser was found to be unjustified as it increased the risk of injury as it could have caused Mr X to lose control of the car.
Firing shots at the tyres was also “not justified by the circumstances, and risked unnecessary harm to those present through the potential for ricochets or misdirected shots”, Doherty said.
Mr X had 12 outstanding warrants for burglaries at the time of the arrest attempt, and there had been reports of dangerous driving and fleeing from police. He was also a heavy user of methamphetamine, the IPCA noted.
He was assumed to be armed, having been photographed recently with what appeared to be a rifle.
Three Armed Offenders Squad members were part of the support team who attempted to arrest Mr X after spotting his car, which stopped in the Tikipunga shopping centre car park.
The support team had planned the arrest before entering the car park, but found the vehicle was not parked where they believed it would be.
They continued with the arrest attempt, with one officer immediately jumping out of the police car, smashing the front passenger window of Mr X’s vehicle and shouting that they were police.
Another officer became tangled in his seatbelt and was delayed getting out of the car.
The first officer fired his taser twice after the wanted man started driving, crashing into multiple vehicles, including the police car, in an attempt to escape. The officer pointed his gun at the man through the windscreen and ordered him to stop, but instead he reversed at speed, crashing into another vehicle.
The second officer, who had caught up, also fired a taser at the man. The first officer fired two shots at two of the car’s tyres as the man drove away.
The IPCA found the arrest attempt should not have taken place.
“We find it hard to imagine a less controllable environment, or one containing more risks, than a shopping centre car park at 3.45pm on a Thursday,” the report said.
The report also noted poor communication between the support and surveillance teams involved in the operation, and that police policy is not to fire a taser at anyone driving a car due to the risk of them losing control and causing injury.
Shooting at tyres is only allowed under police policy in “exceptional circumstances”, the report said.
The IPCA “strongly disagree” with the outcome of a police investigation that “effectively supports” the decision to fire tasers and a pistol, the report said.
“Attempting to arrest a man in a busy shopping centre carpark with inadequate Police resources and planning, directly resulted in the inappropriate firing of the pistol and tasers. The fact that no one was injured, or even killed, in this incident is remarkable and owed entirely to luck,” Doherty said.
“I am disappointed that despite the officers acting contrary to policy and placing members of the public at significant risk, police have entirely excused their actions.”
Northland District Commander Superintendent Tony Hill said the circumstances and actions in the attempt to arrest the man were unfortunate.
“The police staff involved in this incident were acting with good intent to apprehend an offender, actively committing offending, and who may have been in possession of a firearm,” he said.
“Police accept that the tactics employed at the time were unwise and not in line with our policy or public safety.”
Improvements have been made after the incident to procedures and additional training, Hill said.