Delays on child abuse cases 'unacceptable'
Police have been urged to consider prioritising child abuse cases after an Independent Police Conduct Authority
inquiry found "numerous'' files locked in a cupboard at Westport's police station.
The inquiry followed a discovery last June of a backlog of more than 100 child abuse investigation files in Wairarapa, where there had been little or no progress on the original complaint.
In December, following submissions from the public about delays in other areas, the IPCA widened its inquiry to cover the whole country and today released part one of its findings.
IPCA chairwoman Justice Lowell Goddard said a number of improvements that could be made by police had been identified, and that the IPCA considered it important to report on them immediately.
``Whilst there have been failures in the Wairarapa and elsewhere, such as Rotorua and Westport, these are not representative of all police child abuse investigations,'' Justice Goddard said.
``But it is important to acknowledge that the failures may occur again unless shortcomings in police practices, policies, and procedures are remedied.''
A review conducted of CIB files held at Westport found a detective constable who had responsibility for child abuse left the police in December 2008. "Numerous'' files were found locked in cupboards in the constable's office.
Two large boxes of files were discovered, which included four historic child abuse files, the report found.
"The child abuse files had been recorded and were properly shown as assigned to the Detective Constable at Westport. There had simply been a failure by the Detective Constable to progress the investigations and this was not detected through supervisory oversight until after the Detective Constable's departure,'' the report found.
On discovering the files appropriate steps were taken by Police to progress the investigations, the report says.
Among the IPCA recommendations was that consideration be given to including child abuse investigations as a priority in the police's national business plan and that how the cases were documented in the national database be reviewed.
The IPCA also suggested investigators on child abuse teams be exclusively focused on child abuse cases and that police review the way in which staff were selected for the cases.
Consideration should also be given to setting a national standard on the number of child abuse investigation files to be held by an investigator at any one time, the IPCA said.
Police Commissioner Howard Broad said today police would be working through the IPCA's recommendations.
``Unfortunately child abuse issues feature regularly in police operational reports and in the last three years it has been a rare week when child abuse has not been on the agenda for the police,'' Mr Broad said.
``We absolutely agree with the IPCA that child abuse must be prevented. Police are part of the solution and to do this we must ensure that we are doing our job to the highest standard.''
Mr Broad said police already had many actions under way to address the problems and a team had been working with the IPCA.
``On receiving this report I am motivated to get as many of the recommendations implemented in as short a time as possible and will be taking a taskforce approach to this.''
Mr Broad said the delays found in Wairarapa were unacceptable and, in response, police had conducted a national audit of child abuse case, which found most were being dealt with in a proper and timely manner.
``Child abuse is an abhorrent crime and we want every investigation to be completed to the highest standard. It is disappointing that not every file was documented or conducted according to standards, but the vast majority stood up to very robust inspection,'' he said.
``I don't want people to think our system is broken when it is not. We have a desire to do our absolute best for at risk children and ensuring that we have the best practices, policies and procedures in place is extremely important in achieving this goal.'