22 Oct 2021

Police Commissioner defends enforcement action at protests

8:59 am on 22 October 2021

Police Commissioner Andrew Coster has defended the approach taken to protesters flouting lockdown rules, as compliance concerns heighten heading into the long weekend.

There are compliance concerns for parts of the country under alert level 3 restrictions as New Zealand heads into the Labour Day long weekend.

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Commissioner of Police Andrew Coster says responding to lockdown protests under alert level three is 'a really difficult balance'. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Over the past week police in Auckland have had to deal with anti-lockdown protests, a lockdown-breaching party, and MIQ absconders.

Coster told Morning Report he knew it was "pretty dissatisfying" for residents who had been abiding by the alert level restrictions to see others flouting the rules, but maintained the police's less confrontational approach was the right one.

"When you have a thousand people gathered, there's no police tactic that can make the situation better and we've seen other jurisdictions try to do that and you end up with running stoushes," he said.

"It's not an effective way of intervening."

Coster said a number of prosecutions had been brought in relation to the lockdown protests.

"We've been really consistent in firstly warning that the protests are not able to occur, secondly - where it's inevitable they are going to occur - to make sure they are done as safely as possible."

The right to protest is protected under New Zealand law and Coster said it was "a really difficult balance" to "understand the interplay between the [Covid-19] restrictions and the right to protest".

"We think we've got that balance right by prosecuting the organisers - particularly where they've had every opportunity not to do this activity but there's nothing really, once a crowd is of a certain size, that police can do that isn't going to make the situation worse."

The reason for the restrictions was to protect public health and Coster said police remained mindful of that in every situation.

"I think we can see people are understandably sick of being in lockdown and that's playing out in terms of some of the behaviour. I think we need to focus on how well we've done and how close we are to being able to transition to something different and we just need people to hang in there."

Asked about the response to a large party on Auckland's North Shore last weekend, Coster said the main organiser of that gathering had been summoned to court, 11 people had been issued with infringements and police were continuing to identify and prosecute people who had been present.

"That gathering happened to be one that was highlighted in the media ... obviously police can't be in every home and we continue to be reliant on people doing the right thing for the well-being of the whole community."

Mandatory vaccination for officers considered

Coster said mandatory Covid-19 vaccination for officers was being considered.

High-risk workers in the health and disability sector already need to be fully vaccinated by December, and school and early learning staff by January.

Police were working with the government and the public service on mandatory vaccination, Coster said.

"We can certainly see the value for our people in terms of protecting their well-being.

"Also recognising that we go into many places and we wouldn't want police to be a vector for a spread of the virus - so we are actively considering that but it will be in alignment with what others are doing."

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