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Police conduct authority finds 111 call taker was right to place low priority on calls from Bay property where stabbing occurred

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Police were justified in not immediately responding to five 111 calls from a woman who reported her concerns at a property where a man was later stabbed. Photo / NZME

A woman who rang 111 five times on Christmas Eve claiming children were at risk of harm had her calls deemed low priority by police, despite a man later being fatally stabbed at the address the same afternoon.

An Independent Police Conduct Authority decision released today vindicated police and the 111 operators who were trying to prioritise multiple jobs.

The Bay of Plenty woman, identified in today’s decision as Ms X, made the five calls over a two-hour period on the afternoon of December 24, 2020.

She was at a property with family, including children. During the day, an argument broke out. An intoxicated Ms X went to leave the property but had her keys taken from her and her car tampered with so she could not drive.

Leaving on foot, she rang 111 claiming a man at the property was telling children to shoot each other with toy guns and that she had been assaulted.

With no free units and the woman now having left the house, the call taker deemed the job a lower priority, telling Ms X that police would visit in the evening.

Ms X made two more 111 calls over the next 20 minutes, repeating her previous concerns. On the third call, police said they would do a welfare check on the children.

Shortly after, an officer rang Ms X, telling her to go to the Whakatāne police station later in the day to make a statement. Still, no officer had visited the property.

Ms X then called 111 a fourth time, asking for the operator to connect her to her sister as she was out of credit. She wanted to remind her sister to feed her animals, but the call taker declined.

Finally, the woman made a fifth call. She had returned to the property and found four men fighting. One had been stabbed, dying two days later. A man was convicted of manslaughter for the death this year.

The woman and children later left the property.

Authority chairman Judge Colin Doherty found that the original call taker’s decision to record the call as “priority 2” was justified.

“Ms X was safe, and the concerns raised about the children related to their welfare, rather than an immediate risk to their safety.

“The plan eventually agreed with Ms X for police to attend later that evening was reasonable in the circumstances.”

Bay of Plenty District Commander Superintendant Tim Anderson. Photo / Andrew Warner
Bay of Plenty District Commander Superintendant Tim Anderson. Photo / Andrew Warner

The authority’s view was the same for the second call, which offered no new information, and the third call, in which the call taker asked for a welfare check on the children.

“Officer B’s actions [in ringing Ms X directly] were prudent. There was potential for confusion as a result of Ms X’s three earlier calls, and it was sensible for Officer B to speak directly with Ms X and confirm that there was no need for urgent response,” the authority also found.

Ms X’s final call, by which point a man had been stabbed, was appropriately recoded as priority 1 and police attended immediately, the authority said.

“We accept that Ms X’s concerns were for the children, and she was understandably frustrated with having to repeat her account to a different call taker each time she called 111.

“However, based on the information provided to the call takers, we accept police actions were appropriate under the circumstances. Importantly, Officer B spoke directly to Ms X to confirm arrangements for a statement to be taken from her that evening.”

Bay of Plenty District Commander Superintendent Tim Anderson said he was comfortable with the actions of his staff.

“The most urgent calls where there is a real risk to safety are attended first. The calls did not indicate an emergency response was required, and a plan had been made with the woman to take a statement from her.

“We agree with the IPCA that we could not have reasonably anticipated the events that followed.”

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