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Police officers did not do everything they should when attempting to save drowning man, IPCA finds

Three police officers have been found to have not done all they should have when attempting to rescue a man in the Waikato river, the Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) has found. 

Waikato river near the Fairfield bridge, Hamilton. Source: istock.com

A Hamilton man, who was wanted for a violent assault on his partner, disappeared into the river following a police chase by the dog squad and later drowned after being pulled under by a strong current in April 2018. 

The IPCA announced today that the three officers "were not adequately trained or sufficiently experienced to manage a rescue operation".

"The officers on the boat were overly focused on earlier warnings and instructions from senior officers, instead of making their own risk assessments and planning for the possibility of finding [the man] in the water," the report said. 

According to the Authority, the acting inspector who was in charge of the search had told the crew not to bring the man on board without first making a plan. 

The officers had then interpreted this that their role was restricted to assisting in searching for the man and as a result did not plan for rescuing him. 

Just after midnight the police eagle helicopter had alerted the police boat after spotting the man cornered in the river. 

Crew on board positioned the boat 15 metres upstream from the man, which was too far away to deploy rescue equipment, due to being wary of the safety risk he may impose. 

The man had attempted to swim towards the boat but was pulled under and not seen alive again.

The IPCA said the police officer which was skipper of the boat had not shown "the leadership needed as the search operation developed".

The report found this lack of leadership had resulted in them placing the boat at a distance which was "impossible" for the man to reach.