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Police response to missing person report regarding Nicholas Stevens

25 May 2016

The Independent Police Conduct Authority has found that Police failed to follow policy and good practice when responding to a missing person notification in Hamilton regarding Nicholas Stevens, aged 21.

Nicholas Stevens suffered from schizophrenia and was admitted to the Henry Rongomau Bennett Centre (HBC) on 19 February 2015 following a serious suicide attempt. He did not return from unescorted leave on 9 March 2015, and the HBC advised Police that he was missing about two hours later, at 2.38pm.

Police did not dispatch any officers to search for Nicholas Stevens or to gather further information from the HBC. Two days later, on the afternoon of 11 March 2015, Police commenced a Search and Rescue operation. A member of the public found Nicholas Stevens’ body in the Waikato River the next morning.

After receiving a complaint from Nicholas Stevens’ family, the Authority conducted an independent investigation and found serious deficiencies in respect of:

  • the Police Northern Communications Centre’s handling of the missing person notification;
  • the oversight provided by the Waikato District Command Centre;
  • the investigation conducted by the officer in charge of Missing Persons for the Waikato District; and
  • the Police’s contact with Nicholas Stevens’ family after he was reported missing.

“There were a number of missed opportunities on 9 and 10 March 2015 for Police to reassess the risk posed to Nicholas Stevens and realise that further action was required. The lack of action and contact from Police caused Nicholas Stevens’ family great distress at a very difficult time” said Authority Chair, Judge Sir David Carruthers.

The Authority also determined that a Police media release relating to Nicholas Stevens on 11 March 2015 contained an inaccurate description of him due to a data entry problem.

The Authority recommended that Police:

  • review the data entry process for the creation of missing person files to ensure that information is not mistakenly retained from earlier files; and
  • update the Communications Centres’ standard operating procedures and policy regarding ‘Missing Persons’.

Additionally, the Authority noted its support for the Police’s efforts to develop a national training package on mental health, and to ensure that Police database alerts for people missing from mental health providers are in place as soon as possible.

Note: The Authority’s report focuses solely on the actions of Police. The Authority has no jurisdiction to review or comment on the actions of staff employed by the Henry Rongomau Bennett Centre (HBC)

Public Report

Police response to missing person report regarding Nicholas Stevens (PDF 864 KB)

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