Police officer justified in hitting woman who bit him as he tried to prevent her attempting suicide - IPCA

A police officer who struck a woman who bit him as he tried to stop her from attempting suicide didn't use excessive force, but he should have taken other actions, a new report has found.

Source: 1 NEWS

A report by the Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) was released today, after the incident in rural Bay of Plenty in 2018.

Police were called by the woman's partner, who was concerned she was attempting suicide.

When officers arrived at the Whakamārama property, the woman was in the shower, with broken glass and blood in the hallway.

Source: TVNZ

She wrapped herself in a towel and returned to her bedroom when police knocked and entered the room.

The woman refused access and shut the door on him, leading the officer to walk around to a different entrance to the room while another officer entered through the main door to the main.

The officer says the woman tried to run from the bedroom and he was concerned she would harm herself, so he grabbed her and restrained her.

She bit his arm and he "whacked her off" by hitting her on the head, he told the IPCA.

There was a struggle in the hallway and the woman's towel fell off, leaving her naked. She was then pepper-sprayed and handcuffed.

During the encounter, the woman was also accidentally knocked on the head with the handcuffs, the IPCA confirmed.

Two more officers arrived later, including a female officer who covered the woman with a blanket and took her to hospital.

In the IPCA report, the officer was cleared of excessive force in the encounter but the authority did criticise some of the actions by police.

It says there were "other options available" for the officers to prevent the situation from escalating.

"A calmer approach may also have allowed Ms Z the space to get dressed before speaking with police, potentially reducing her distress and making her more amenable to help," IPCA chair Colin Doherty said in the report.

He referred to a report released five years ago which found police lacked appropriate methods and strategies when working with mentally impaired people who posted a risk to themselves or others.

He says police are still called as first responders for mental health emergencies.

"They are required to assist in performing a health function that does not sit comfortably with their predominant law enforcement function," he said.

"This is despite officers commonly lacking the skills and strategies to deal with mentally impaired people in a way that effectively reduces their mental distress and de-escalates the situation."

In a statement today, Western Bay of Plenty area commander Inspector Clifford Paxton said he supports the actions of his officers.

"As police we have a duty of care to protect life and safety. Our officers were protecting this woman and ensuring her safety."