7 May 2015 - An Independent Police Conduct Authority report released today has found that two Otago-based Police officers, who are themselves keen pig hunters, were not deliberately acting in their own interests when undertaking enforcement action under Operation Poacher, a co-ordinated Police response to unlawful activity on forestry company land. However, one of these officers did have an unacceptable conflict of interest.
The Authority became aware of these concerns after receiving three separate complaints from local pig hunters in late 2013 and early 2014. These complaints related to the circumstances in which they had been issued ‘blanket trespass notices,’ that banned them from accessing 147 listed forestry blocks in Otago and Southland.
The complainants also raised issues about the way the officers had treated them, and alleged that the officers were working for the forestry companies, had unlawfully confiscated and sold hunting equipment, and had generally abused their authority as Police officers to protect their preferred hunting grounds.
In releasing today’s report Independent Police Conduct Authority Chair, Judge Sir David Carruthers said the Authority’s investigation had not found any evidence that either officer acted in a corrupt manner when undertaking enforcement action under Operation Poacher.
“The Authority also accepted that Operation Poacher, which was run by one of the officers investigated, was set up for genuine police purposes.
“However, the fact that both officers were also hunters clearly did not sit well with some local hunters, and it did raise questions about, firstly, whether they had a conflict of interest; and secondly, if so, whether it was being appropriately managed,” Sir David said.
“The Authority found that one officer made a genuine attempt to avoid a conflict of interest, by keeping his supervisor informed, and refraining from hunting on forestry company land. However, the other officer did not take these precautions, and consequently put himself in a definite position of conflict.”
The Authority’s report also addressed complaints received from two men who were searched and issued with blanket trespass notices while on West Boundary Road, near Berwick in Otago on 2 August 2013.
The Authority considered whether the blanket trespass notices were justified and found that the officers had insufficient evidence to conclude that the complainants would trespass on each of the 147 forestry blocks listed on the notice.
“It was clear that the legal test for the issue of blanket trespass notices was not met in the circumstances” Sir David said.
The Authority has recommended that all blanket trespass notices issued under Operation Poacher are reviewed to ensure that sufficient evidence exists to meet the legal test.
Police in the Southern Police District have instructed staff to stop issuing blanket trespass notices, and Police are reviewing relevant policy.