1 Dec 2020

Police officers cleared after using force to restrain woman

2:16 pm on 1 December 2020

The Independent Police Conduct Authority has found officers did not use excessive force while responding to an attempted self-harm incident.

Close up of a police officer at an incident on a residential street. 6 July 2016.

Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly

Police in Whakamarama were called to the incident in November 2018 by a man worried his partner was harming herself.

When Officer A arrived at the address, the woman had just got out of the shower.

He tried to persuade her to get dressed, and shortly after, Officer B arrived at the scene.

The woman then shut herself in her bedroom, wearing only a towel, and after some time, Officer A also entered.

"My concern was that she was harming herself. We'd been called to an incident where the only text we had was to get there urgently," he later told police.

The woman then tried run towards the hallway, and while Officer A was trying to restrain her, she bit him.

Officer A hit the woman on the head to release the bite and then pepper-sprayed her before putting the woman in handcuffs.

Her towel fell off in the process.

She was later wrapped in a blanket by two other officers, one female, and taken to hospital.

The IPCA has not upheld complaints by the woman alleging officers used excessive force.

IPCA chair Judge Colin Doherty said police were often the first responders to incidents like this despite lacking the expertise to deal with people in mental distress.

"They do turn up, and do their best in the circumstances.

"The authority has in the past made comment that there perhaps ought to be another way of doing it and people who are trained be called."

While that did happen on occasion, Judge Doherty said health services were often already too stretched and did not have the resources.

A co-responder model between police and mental health specialists could be one answer to the problem, he said, with a pilot programme under way in Wellington.

Judge Doherty said this could also help reduce distress for officers who found themselves in situations where a person was mentally unwell.

"Of course lots of what police are confronted with means there needs to be instant action and they do their best in the interests of, the health and safety of, not only the people they're dealing with but the wider community and of course themselves."

Police have accepted the IPCA findings.

Where to get help:

Need to Talk? Free call or text 1737 any time to speak to a trained counsellor, for any reason.

Lifeline: 0800 543 354 or text HELP to 4357

Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 / 0508 TAUTOKO (24/7). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.

Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757 (24/7) or text 4202

Samaritans: 0800 726 666 (24/7)

Youthline: 0800 376 633 (24/7) or free text 234 (8am-12am), or email talk@youthline.co.nz

What's Up: online chat (3pm-10pm) or 0800 WHATSUP / 0800 9428 787 helpline (12pm-10pm weekdays, 3pm-11pm weekends)

Kidsline (ages 5-18): 0800 543 754 (24/7)

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Healthline: 0800 611 116

Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.

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