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Auckland cop quit during investigation into 'jokes' about planting evidence to search cars

An Auckland police officer who joked with colleagues about using "throw downs" to allow him to search vehicles resigned amid police and Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) investigations.

In a release today, IPCA chair Judge Colin Doherty said concerns were raised about the conduct of "Officer A" by colleagues last year after he made comments suggesting he kept point bags - small bags often used to store drugs like methamphetamine - inside his police vest to place inside stopped vehicles.

Doing so would allow him to search the vehicle without a warrant under the Search and Surveillance Act, which allows constables to do so if they have reasonable grounds to suspect a controlled drug like meth could be inside.

One colleague was shown three point bags that Officer A appeared to be in possession of, including one with a very small amount of white powder inside, and multiple other colleagues had also seen the bags.

The IPCA said that, during their investigation, they had established that the act of planting evidence in this way was colloquially referred to as using "throw downs" - both by Officer A and by other officers in his unit - as a running joke.

Officer A had graduated from Police College in 2017, and completed his probationary training period at the Ōtāhuhu Police Station.

"He had established a reputation as a conscientious Police officer who was very capable at seeking out and searching suspicious vehicle for drugs and weapons," the IPCA report read.

Officer B, who had worked with Officer A many times, said Officer A had a habit of stopping as many cars as possible during a shift because he believed that finding illegal items was "a numbers game".

Officer A told the Authority that his ability to search cars had led to high praise on the force, saying "we were effectively famous for it on section and outside of section".

The IPCA and police both undertook widespread investigations of the allegations, and both concluded that there was no hard evidence that Officer A had ever used a "throw down" during any searches.

"Officer A was adamant that he had never used, and would never use, point bags or any other item as a ‘throw down’ to enable him to search a car," the IPCA report read.

"He stressed that any comments made about him or attributed to him in relation to throw downs were in the context of a joke and nothing more."

The Authority said the investigation raised "significant concerns about the policing culture manifested by this behaviour".

"It points to a willingness for officers to stop vehicles for the primary purpose of questioning occupants and searching vehicles in the hope of uncovering evidence of offending and making an arrest.

"As international policing research has clearly shown, if officers focus on 'suspicious' drivers and vehicles, without any concrete evidence to support their suspicions, this will inevitably be likely to result in enforcement practices that discriminate against some groups more than others.

"The suspicious cues upon which officers rely will most likely have elements of ethnic and socio-economic stereotyping."

POLICE ACKNOWLEDGE THE IPCA'S FINDINGS

In a release, Counties Manukau District Commander Superintendent Jill Rogers said both Officer A and Officer B had been stood down during the investigation, but that Officer B had since been cleared of any wrongdoing and had returned to work.

Ms Rogers said that during the course of the investigations, Officer A had resigned from Police.

Police had decided that no charges would be filed against Officer A after consulting with the Crown Solicitors Office.

A file image of two "point bags" - typically used to store small quantities of powdered drugs like methamphetamine. Source: 1 NEWS