24 Jan 2017

Protection order complaint takes two years to investigate

5:53 am on 24 January 2017

Police have taken two years to investigate and uphold a Northland woman's complaint that a senior constable had failed to take seriously protection order breaches she reported.

Ulanda Titford, 21 and her son, Xavier,4 standing outside their house

Ulanda Titford said the over-the-phone apology from police felt impersonal. Photo: RNZ/Carla Penman

Ulanda Titford laid the complaint in January 2015. It was resolved earlier this month.

Her ex-partner Gene Hanham was jailed in May 2015, for two years and four months, for three protection order breaches and assault with intent to rape.

In November last year, speaking from her Far North home, Ulanda Titford recalled how her relationship with Gene Hanham turned violent and she sought help from Womens' Refuge to get a protection order against him.

That safeguard, she said, failed her.

Ms Titford said the first breach involved him pushing her into her car and trying to pull down her pants.

She reported it to the police but nothing came of it.

"The next one was at the hospital ... because my partner now ended up in hospital. And me and my sister pulled in, because I had to go to an appointment, and I didn't notice that he was following me.

"My sister noticed him ... I didn't notice he was going around ... and then yeah, started yelling some stuff through the window to me. Asking me to get in the car and that."

She again reported the breach to the police.

"The one after that was when him and his stepdad turned up to the farm we were at, and started taking items and that.

"And then I rang the police, and that's when [the senior constable] turned up. And then by then, Gene and his stepdad were leaving and [the senior constable] met them at the end of the driveway and brought Gene back up to the house."

She said it wasn't until she went to another officer, a woman, that the breaches were taken seriously and Hanham was arrested.

That prompted her to then lay a formal complaint against the first officer.

She said since then, she had heard very little from the police.

RNZ has been in regular contact with the police about Ms Titford's complaint.

It wasn't until August 2016, that the police watchdog, the Independent Police Conduct Authority, said a final decision was about to be made.

In late October, Ms Titford was told it was to be wrapped up "within weeks" - however, that turned into months.

Ms Titford said she was relieved it was all over now but she was upset she had to waste two years of life waiting for closure.

"I think it sucks. And one thing that did piss me off was that [the senior constable] was still allowed to work while the complaint was still there."

She said the over-the-phone apology from police felt impersonal, and the reason for the delay was rubbish.

"He said it was because they couldn't get a higher person to meet up with [the senior constable].

"Every time they went to meet up, one of them had to do something else."

The police have repeatedly refused requests for interviews by RNZ.

In a statement, Northland District Commander superintendent Russell Le Prou said they had finished their investigation relating to the conduct of an officer.

"Police have found that the conduct by the police officer involved was not at the standard we expect of our staff. Family violence is a priority for all police as we understand the significant harm it causes in our communities. Our staff are well-trained to respond to these situations and it is a concern when we fail to meet our commitment to respond to and investigate crime.

"Police have also conducted an employment investigation into this matter. The officer involved has been spoken to and the appropriate action has been taken. As employment processes are confidential between employer and employee, police are unable to provide further comment.

"Police do regret the time taken to complete both of these investigations. Unfortunately, factors outside police's control unduly delayed the process to resolve this matter. Due to privacy reasons, police are unable to discuss these factors publicly. Since the outcome of the investigation, Police have contacted the complainant, advised them of the result, and apologised for the delay in this matter."

Police Minister Paula Bennett said police officers were trained to deal with family violence incidents so it was disappointing any time a police officer did not meet this commitment.

Ms Titford said it was unfair that, while she didn't do anything wrong, the senior constable who did had been allowed to keep his job.

For more on Ulanda Titford's story, listen to Carla Penman's RNZ's Insight programme, which aired in November 2016.