Use of young police dog in fleeing driver's arrest 'unprofessional', IPCA finds

The use of a young police dog that continuously bit a fleeing driver after his arrest in 2017 has been found to have been "unnecessary and unprofessional", according to the Independent Police Conduct Authority.

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The Authority also found officers used excessive force, were not justified in being armed and were criticised over their lack of communication and planning during their pursuit of the offenders.

On September 30, 2017, about 2am, police spotted the tradesperson's ute being driven dangerously in central Christchurch. The ute was believed to be stolen.

The driver failed to stop when signalled by police and a chase lasting just over 20 minutes began.

During the pursuit, occupants of the fleeing ute broke its front windscreen and windows and threw building tools out of the window into the path of the police cars. There were at least four police vehicles involved in the pursuit.

When one officer attempted to use road spikes to deflate the ute's tyres, the driver of the ute appeared to drive straight at the officer.

But the ute was successfully spiked and the offender crashed to a stop into a police car in Latimer Square. Several officers used their cars to block the ute in.

The officers, some of whom had armed themselves, rushed to the ute to arrest the occupants and force was used to arrest the driver, the Authority found.

One officer struck the driver with his gun before pulling him from the car. Police also struck the driver when he was struggling on the ground and a police dog continuously bit his leg for almost a minute while handcuffs were applied.

The Authority found that while officers were justified in pursuing the ute, the pursuit was not carried out in accordance with police policy and increased the risk to the public.

Police were also not justified in arming themselves.

But the main concern was the use of force with a young police dog, including the length of time it was allowed to bite. 

The Authority said it was unnecessary to use the dog, as other officers were available to help restrain the driver.

"More concerningly, it appears that the dog handler intentionally yanked the police dog several times during the bite, partly to train his young dog. This exacerbated the driver’s injuries," the Authority said in a statement.

Authority Chairman Judge Colin Doherty said, "during the lengthy pursuit, police had the time and resources to formulate a plan for when the ute came to a stop. They didn't do so, and the response was uncoordinated and overly aggressive. 

"Further, the use of the police dog was unnecessary and unprofessional. No member of the public should ever be subjected to a dog bite for training purposes."

The Authority accepted that some level of force was required to arrest the ute's occupants, but added less forceful tactics could have been used if the officers had better planned how to respond when the ute eventually stopped.

The Authority suggested police could have instead formed a cordon around the ute to contain the occupants in the first instance, rather than rushing to arrest.

In a statement from police, they said the actions of the dog handler were addressed by a supervisor and further training and discussion was also held with two other officers involved in the incident.

Superintendent John Price, Canterbury District Commander, said that while the incident was an incredibly challenging and dynamic one, some actions taken by officers were unsuitable in the circumstances.

"The officers were dealing with a motivated offender determined to avoid arrest, and who was willing to risk the safety of others through his manner of driving," he said.

"However as the Authority's report has highlighted there were a number of areas where the officers' actions did not meet the standard required of them. 

"Our officers are committed to doing the right thing with the right intent in their work to protect the public and make sure people are safe."

Several of the officers involved in the arrest had received further training and guidance to assist when dealing with situations like this in the future, Mr Price said.

"The message remains simple when asked to stop by the Police for unlawful behaviour on our roads – stop. The actions we take as police are to make sure that everyone is our communities is safe and feels safe at all times."