Officers discussed planting evidence to justify searching vehicles
7 November 2019
The Independent Police Conduct Authority has completed its investigation into an allegation that, in 2018, an officer
from the Otahuhu Police Station was planting evidence so he could search vehicles under the Search and Surveillance Act
2012. The Authority found that, while there was no proof this actually happened, some officers' comments demonstrated
they were prepared to engage in improper and potentially discriminatory policing practices.
The investigation began after an officer raised concerns about a comment his fellow officer had made, that he was
planting 'point bags' (small, zip-lock bags, often used to contain drugs) in vehicles in order to use their legal powers
to search. Shortly after this, the officer who made the comment was found to have three point bags in his Police vest,
one of which contained the residue of a white powder.
Police investigated and concluded that the officer did not plant evidence. However, they identified shortcomings in
relation to the officer's handling of seized property. The officer resigned before Police could complete an employment
Authority Chair, Judge Colin Doherty, said: "While there is a level of suspicion over the policing practices of the
officer, the Authority agrees with Police that there is no evidence to substantiate a finding that the officer
unlawfully and corruptly 'planted' evidence in order to search motor vehicles."
However, during interviews with the Authority, officers said they partly measured success on the job in terms of the
number of arrests they made as a result of random or suspicious vehicle stops. The Authority noted two significant
concerns about this behaviour:
• It points to a willingness for officers to stop vehicles in the hope of uncovering evidence of offending and
making an arrest, rather than only stopping vehicles when they have reasonable grounds to suspect an offence or for the
purpose of enforcing the Land Transport Act.
• As international policing research has clearly shown, if officers focus on "suspicious" drivers and vehicles,
without any concrete evidence to support their suspicions, this will inevitably be likely to result in enforcement
practices that discriminate against some groups more than others.
The Authority also recommended that Police clarify its 'Exhibit and property management' policy, particularly as it
relates to the recording and destruction of non-evidential, low value items (such as empty point bags).