IPCA finds Police response to Northland protection order breaches "grossly inadequate"

Tue 14 Jan 2014

The Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) has found that the Police response to a complaint of protection order breaches by a Northland ...

The Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) has found that the Police response to a complaint of protection order breaches by a Northland woman who was subsequently killed was "poorly managed and grossly inadequate". It found that the response to a second complaint she made was inadequate.

21 year old Ashlee Edwards, a mother of two, had laid complaints regarding protection order breaches by her ex-partner Jimmy Akuhata on 22 and 26 May 2012. The first complaint was made to Whangarei Police and the second to the Police Northern Communications Centre. Ms Edwards was killed on 27 July 2012. Jimmy Akuhata has been charged with her murder.

Ms Edwards had received 43 text messages and 159 voice mail messages from Mr Akuhata in which he made serious threats, including threatening to kill her, rape her, cut her head off, and throw battery acid in her face.

The IPCA report, published on 19 December 2013, found that the complaints were investigated independently and that the officer investigating the second complaint was unaware of the first complaint. The report states that each complaint made by Ms Edwards included sufficient evidence to prosecute Mr Akuhata under the Domestic Violence Act 1995, but on each occasion Mr Akuhata was released without charge. It states that the failure to prosecute Mr Akuhata in relation to the first complaint was a breach of Police Family Violence Policy and Procedures. Issuing him with a warning in relation to the second complaint was a breach of Northland Family Violence Best Practice Guidelines 2007-2008.

IPCA found that the Police involved failed to take proper ownership of Ms Edwards’ first complaint and to appreciate the urgency and significance of the situation, leading to undue delay. There were also breakdowns in communication and file management.

The Police Family Violence Coordinators told the Authority they experienced problems associated with high workloads, and that the workloads of frontline staff meant training opportunities were limited. As a result staff attending family violence incidents often made errors.

The IPCA report endorsed actions taken to improve the Police response to family violence incidents in Northland since Ms Edwards' death. These have included:

  • undertaking a quality assurance review of family violence policy and practice
  • the appointment of a District Victim Manager
  • reducing the amount of hands-on work required of the Family Violence Co-ordinators
  • the introduction of a tasking system for files where an offender is still outstanding
  • establishing a file management system so that frontline staff are not responsible for administration of files
  • ensuring the transfer of files from one area to another is tasked effectively
  • the establishment of a District Command Centre to enable a timely response to family violence incidents
  • the establishment of a Whangarei Area Prevention Team to reduce victimisation and actively prevent family violence.

Family violence NGO Shine also welcomed the initiatives and advocated for all NZ Police Districts to review their procedures to prevent a similar incident. In particular Shine urged Police to:

  • ensure effective in-depth routine training on family violence that helps frontline police understand risk factors related to domestic homicides in particular;
  • ensure middle management prioritise a coordinated and effective response to domestic violence;
  • ensure an interagency team approach to high risk cases in which police work in coordination with local abuse organisations like Shine as well as other key local agencies.

Shine Communications Director Holly Carrington said, "Domestic violence is a crime that cannot be looked at in terms of isolated incidents; it is imperative that police, and other professionals involved, who are trying to understand the seriousness of a particular incident, look at the entire history and pattern of abuse."


Shine responds to Ashlee Edwards' death and IPCA report, Voxy, 19.12.13

Northland Police accept findings of IPCA report, Press Release: Northland Police, 19.12.13

Police failed murdered woman, Stuff, 19.12.13

IPCA: Response to woman's domestic violence claims 'grossly inadequate', 3 News, 19.12.13

IPCA: Woman's complaints poorly managed, NZ Herald, 19.12.13

Image: iStock