Police Commissioner confident lockdown enforcement was legal

NZ Herald: Legality of police action during covid 19 coronavirus lockdown questioned in legal quarters

Leaked emails from the police top brass show how legally exposed they felt when the country was ordered into lockdown in March.

Emails from Deputy Commissioner Mike Clement to district commanders and to the now Commissioner Andy Coster show a Crown Law opinion warning the police they had little or no power to enforce the lockdown.

That was the case for the first two weeks of the Government orders before the director general of health Ashley Bloomfield used the outdated Health Act to issue specific regulations.

The powers only come into play when a breach is obvious.

Clement said they “cannot direct anyone to do anything unless it is quite extreme in its nature and with direct and significant impacts for the health of others”.

But is this dated information?

Today RNZ:  Police Commissioner on enforcing lockdown: ‘I’m confident that we acted lawfully’

The Police Commissioner says he’s confident police acted lawfully in enforcing the level 4 lockdown. Emails leaked to the New Zealand Herald from Deputy Commissioner Mike Clement to other top officers share a Crown Law opinion warning police they had little to no power to enforce the lockdown during the first two weeks of it, and officers should be operating as though the country were at level 1.

Police Commissioner Andrew Coster told Morning Report police were “conservative” in how they enforced the lockdown early on while they got clarity around their powers.

“At the start of any operation we will ascertain what powers we have in order to enforce whatever it is we are trying to achieve,” he said.

“In this case we had powers under the Civil Defence Emergency Management Act and under a Health Notice. Early on the power we used were predominantly Civil Defence Emergency Management Act powers and those allowed us to give directions to people where it appeared that they weren’t complying with the lockdown controls.

“So that is what we were routinely doing and that was entirely lawful, where we took enforcement action early on it was for repeated, persistent breaches of directions given by police. So those were the powers we had, those were the powers we used and as I say I’m confident that we acted lawfully.”

Commissioner Coster said it was “challenging” for police early on in the lockdown, but is confident none of his staff overstepped the mark in enforcing it.

Enforcement seemed quite light handed generally.

“The direction to our people was that enforcement action needed to follow warning or direction to comply with the controls and a failure to do so and that’s in those early stages before the second Health Notice was issued, those were the powers we exercising, but we need to bear in mind the vast majority of people were doing the right thing, it was always our intention to educate and encourage before enforcement and that’s how we approached that period.

“It was fit for purpose at the time, as time went on and there was less excuse for not knowing and not complying was when we took the steps that we needed to under the Health Notice of more proactive prosecution,” Coster said.

Commissioner Coster said there is no confusion on police’s behalf now that the Health Notice is crystal clear.

It’s not surprising that in the rush to make lockdowns legal that mistakes were made, or at least that they weren’t ideal.

The Police Commissioner is happy with how it has been since the change in mid-April. Obviously this could still be legally challenged, but it’s impossible to tell whether the current legal situation would hold up in court or not if properly challenged.

Crime down through lockdown, mental health, self harm, domestic harm at ‘usual levels’

In a media conference today Police Commissioner Andrew Coster said that through the Level 4 lockdown has been a decrease in crime involving assaults, road policing and theft,

From RNZ: ‘We need to continue to stick to the rules’ – Police Commissioner

Police Commissioner Andrew Coster says police have dealt with 4452 breaches since the lockdown began, including 423 in the past 24 hours.

There have been 477 prosecutions, 3844 warnings, 131 youth referrals during the level 4 lockdown

Coster said over the course of level 4 there had been a decrease in crime in the area of assaults, road policing and theft.

Family harm incidents saw a rise in the first few days but this has dropped back to usual levels. Police had been focusing on this area, he said

Police data on mental health situations had remained the same, but Coster said that did not mean people were not suffering.

It’s fairly obvious why assaults in public, thefts and road offences will be down.

It wasn’t a surprise to see domestic assaults increase intially under lockdown, but good to see that they have settled back to ‘usual levels’ (which are still far too high but at least things don’t seem any worse now).

More detail from today’s Covid newsletter:

Police Commissioner Andy Coster today said that since the Covid-19 Alert Level 4, Police has recorded:

  • 4,452 breaches of CDEM or Health Act;
  • 423 of these were in the past 24 hours (to 6pm);
  • 477 prosecutions, 3,844 warnings, 131 youth referrals;
  • 2,989 reassurance checks at essential facilities 20-22 April;
  • Over that same period, 3,144 patrols were completed; and
  • Police have recorded more than 55,000 reports from the public about breaches.

Police update on mosque killings – death toll now 50

Police Commissioner Mike Bush is giving an update this morning.

The death toll has risen to 50 with another body found at one of the mosques.

The number of injured is also 50 – 38 remain in hospital, 2 remain critical.

The 28 year old has appeared in court and has been remanded until 5 April.

Two other people were apprehended. the woman has been released without charges being laid. The man has been charged with firearm offences but this is not related to the mosque attacks. They were stopped at a cordon and arrested because they were in possession of a firearm.

The fourth person apprehended outside Papanui High School had armed himself ‘to protect children’ but the police said this was not a good idea.

An 18 year old was charged on a ‘tangential’ issue and was not directly linked to the murders.

Police security for mosques around the country will remain at this stage.

The offender obviously modified weapons but police re still investigating details of this.

Police are working through the issue of firearm laws. Bush said that the Prime Minister will say more about this later today.

The police are have liaison people and teams working with various ethnic and religious groups giving their support. “We have to support those people and meet their needs”.

34 year old offence

Police Commissioner Mike Bush has admitted a 34 year old conviction for drink driving while he was a constable. It was dealt with at the time in the ways of the time. I don’t see why it is a big deal it is now.

I think that by then – about 1983 – I was fairly responsible with drink driving, but in the decade before that I was a part of a widespread problem that killed and maimed many people. I was very lucky to survive, as were many many others.

Speak out on family violence

The NZ Police Commissioner Mike Bush and Police Commissioners from across Australia have launched a joint Leadership Statement and Policing Principles for Protecting Women and Children from Family Violence.

The Police Commissioners have called on the community to challenge behaviour that turns a blind eye to family violence and attitudes which reflect an endemic disrespect of women.

“Police are committed to doing everything in their power to prevent family violence, protect victims and hold perpetrators to account,” says Commissioner Mike Bush.

“But Police cannot prevent family violence on their own. Police Commissioners are calling on the community to act.

“In New Zealand, on average Police respond to a family violence incident every 5 minutes. The statistics are appalling and a stark reminder of how much work we need to do. But we can’t do it alone.

“We need to work together as a community to challenge behaviours and attitudes that condone violence or sexism. We are asking the community to stand up and speak out.

“People often make excuses for violence and police hear these every day. It is never a victim’s fault. It is never ok to use violence and we won’t accept it.

“Living free from violence is everyone’s right and reducing violence is everyone’s responsibility.”

This also applies to commenting here and elsewhere online.

Robust argument is encouraged here, but personal attacks and abusing people (a form of violence), and showing disrespect for gender, racial or religious groups, are not wanted here.

I’m not always on hand to challenge violent and abusive behaviour but the community usually does a good job of stepping in and responding appropriately. Thanks for your help with that. Respectful debate is a joint effort.

Rephrasing the last paragraph from the police statement:

“Commenting free from violence is everyone’s right
and reducing violence is everyone’s responsibility.”

Getting help on violence


Little on Key and Sabin

More of Andrew Little’s interview with Duncan Garner on Radio Live about John Key’s handling of the Mike Sabin police inquiry (see also Sabin chaired Law & Order committee after Key knew).

Garner: So when do you think the police told somebody at Parliament?

Little: Well I think they told them earlier than that. I mean it’s pretty, they’ve accepted now that my office told the Prime Minister’s office on the 25th November, and they say they knew even before that.

They’ve now said it was they day before that and, but I would be confident that the police would have told them when they were commencing the investigation which you know could be a lot earlier than that.

Garner: So when are you saying that the police told, are you saying the police told the police minister?

Little: I am very confident that the police told the Police Minister. I don’t know when that is, but my hunch would be that it was earlier than the end of November.

Garner:  Don’t you need more than a hunch?

Little: Yes I do, but what we need is Ministers to answer questions, pretty simple questions put to them –  when did the Police Commissioner brief you on this?

Garner: And Michael Woodhouse has said he has no further comment. Is that good enough?

Little: It’s not good enough. He’s a Minister. He’s gotta answer questions. We know that when the police deal with sensitive investigations they brief the Police Minister. That much we know.

They would have briefed the Police Minister on this. And what we need to know is when that happened. We’ve got a Police Minister that refuses to answer questions. That’s totally unacceptable too.

Garner: But that can’t last can it, surely this will be cleared up at some stage?

Little: Well Parliament resumes this week. We will put questions to the Police Minister. He’s got to answer questions for it. You know it’s just unbelievable that in this day and age a Minister would think that they can just try and get off the hook by just refusing to answer questions on this sort of matter.

This is likely to happen in the first Question Time of the year in Parliament on Wednesday. In theire questions they need to make sure they cover whether the current or previous Minister was briefed.

Garner: Can I put it to you that New Zealanders do not care about this?

Little: Listen I hear that a lot, people saying oh this is just Parliament and all the rest of it.

Actually this is about how Parliament runs, and it’s about the integrity of Parliamentary processes.

The idea, I mean MPs are required to declare conflicts of interest over much smaller matters than this. But this is a guy who was under a police investigation chairing the committee that provides oversight of the police. It’s outrageous, it shouldn’t have happened…

It shouild have been Sabin who declared a conflict of interest. By resigning he is escaping scrutiny on that.

Garner: Why shouldn’t the Prime Minister though be protecting Mike Sabin here or hiding something, what’s in it for him?

Little: I don’t know, maybe he thinks New Zealanders don’t care about this. Maybe he thinks New Zealanders think oh this is just Parliamentary stuff, just political point scoring and all that sort of stuff, actually it’s a serious issue about what sort of standards we want Parliament to observe and MPs to observe. That’s why it’s important.

Garner: So are you saying, are you standing by your claims that the Prime Minister is a liar?

Little: Well I think that the Prime Minister knew before he says he knew, ah but we need the police to confirm or the Police Minister to confirm when he was told. That’s what it comes down to.

Garner: Do you have enough evidence to accuse him for being a liar though?

Little: Oh well I’m confident that the police department, probably the Police Commissioner briefed the Government, or cetainly the Police Minister and probably also the Prime Minister before the first of December, and certainly before the Prime Minister says he knew, but look you know the truth is we need if not the Police Commissioner to confirm the date on which he did the briefing then the Police Minister to front up and do his job and tell us…

Garner: So Mr Little you think the Prime Minister’s a liar, is that right? I’m just trying to clear this up.

Little:  I know you are, and I know you want me to use those words…

Garner: Well no I don’t, I just want…

Little: I don’t think he’s being straight with New Zealanders when he says they first he knew was the first of December, I just don’t believe that, I just don’t believe his Government would be so sloppy that people who knew on the 26th of November and before that wouldn’t have told the Prime Minister that an MP in his party was under a police investigation and was chairing the committee in Parliament that provides oversight of the police.

I just don’t believe they would be that careless and cavalier and stupid for that to happen.

Sloppy is one of the least bad possibilities.

Garner: If it’s proven that the Prime Minister knew before the date that he says he knew, do you think he should resign as the Prime Minister? Do you think this is that serious?

Little: He’s certainly got some pretty serious questions to answer about whu he would allow one of his MPs to go through a massive conflict of interest like this, because it comes down to the integrity of Parliament’s procedures…

Garner: But if he’s proven to, but if it is proven along the way that he’s n ot telling the truth and hasn’t told the truth, do you think that he should stand down as the Prime Minister?

Little: I, listen I haven’t gone that far, you know I, this is a serious matter cause it’s about Parliament and out standards and our processes, ah I’ll have a good think about that but we need to know from the Police Commissioner or the Police Minister when that briefing took place.

We should be told when that briefing took place. The Minister of Police should also be asked if he passed it on to the Prime Minister directly, and if so when. Or if and when he advised the Prime Minister’s office.

It looks like Michael Woodhouse has played for time by refusing to comment to date but he should have to be up front in Parliament when questioned.

I think Little has got about the right balance on this and is targeting the right questions at this stage of the issue. He is wisely not committing to how serious a position he thinks this places the Prime Minister in. Too little is currently known at this stage.

And there is also the secret elephant in the room – how serious the offences were. If they were as some claim and if Sabin has been or will be proven guilty then the seriousness escalates somewhat.

Even if just under investigation for that sort of charge Sabin should have been stood down immediately.

If Key didn’t know what others claim to have known by 1 December then serious questions need to be asked about Key’s or his office’s management.