The Independent Police Conduct Authority has found that an Armed Offenders Squad (AOS) Commander was not justified in driving to Nelson above the road speed limit to attend an operation briefing.
On the evening of 19 January 2020, Police in Nelson received information about Mr X concerning his recent violence, access to methamphetamine and possession and intended use of a semi-automatic shotgun. Next morning, Police decided to execute a search warrant at Mr X’s house in Motueka. The detective in charge sought AOS assistance.
At 11.22am, after the search warrant was issued, the AOS Commander paged the AOS officers about the job and drove from Blenheim to Nelson for a briefing he had scheduled for 1.30pm. On the way he was measured on a Police speed radar driving at 158 kph in a 100 kph zone with his lights and sirens activated. Other AOS officers independently drove to Nelson at a maximum speed of between 120-130 kph. At 1.50pm, after the briefing, the AOS officers and other Police travelled to Motueka and arrested Mr X.
Police are permitted to drive above the speed limit when responding to a critical incident. This is called ‘urgent duty driving.’
The AOS Commander viewed the operation to search Mr X’s house and arrest him as a ‘critical incident’ which justified his use of urgent duty driving under Police policy. He explained he needed to get to Nelson quickly in order to prepare for the briefing and to be close enough to respond if Mr X left his house. The other AOS officers also believed this was a critical incident, justifying their speeds.
The Authority found that the AOS Commander’s actions were not justified. Much of the AOS Commander’s assessment was based on assumption and speculation. There was very little evidence of any immediate, serious risk. Further, the AOS Commander could have completed his preparation during the journey to Nelson by directing the AOS officer travelling with him to drive.
The AOS Commander did not provide the other AOS officers with sufficient information about the urgency of the matter to allow them to make their own assessments of whether they needed to drive to Nelson at speeds above the speed limit.
“We believe that the AOS Commander overstated the risks posed by the man in order to justify his speed after the fact. Although we accept that an AOS presence was required to arrest the man in question, urgent duty driving from Blenheim to Nelson was neither necessary nor justified” said Authority Chair, Judge Colin Doherty.