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Neve Brissenden

NT police ignored DV claims and set dog on a child

NT police officers set a dog on a boy, one of 465 complaints against the force in 2022/2023. (Dave Hunt/AAP PHOTOS)

Northern Territory Police set a dog on a child, left a man stuck in a hunched position in his cell for almost three hours and ignored victims of alleged sexual assault and domestic violence, the watchdog has found.

NT Ombudsman Peter Shoyer has released his 2022/2023 annual report, in which he received 2155 complaints, of which 465 involved police.

In one instance, a child was arrested for a non-violent offence and became upset during the arrest, pulling his arms away from police as they escorted him in handcuffs.

A file photo of the NT Police logo
Complaints against NT Police dropped from the previous year but there was no obvious cause.

An officer told the boy a dog was present and asked, "do you want to get bitten by a dog?"

He then asked the dog handler to release the animal saying, "that officer is going to get the dog out and if you play up the dog is going to bite you".

When the dog was released on the boy, a different officer said: "See that dog is coming for you if you don't calm the f*** down".

The dog ran towards the vehicle where the boy was climbing into the cage and stopped a metre from him.

Though the Ombudsman found the dog did not display any aggression towards the boy he said the use of the animal was "inappropriate".

Mr Shoyer said he wrote to NT Police Commissioner Michael Murphy recommending the force review dog policies.

"It is important to recognise that there is always potential for a dog to be, to some extent, an independent and highly aggressive actor, even with a handler present," Mr Shoyer said in his report.

A separate incident involved care in custody of a man found passed out outside a cafe. 

Police placed him in a spit hood and held him in an awkward position while he was in handcuffs for more than three hours.

Mr Shoyer said there could have been long-term health impacts for the man.

"The position in which (he) remained for that period appeared to be at least incredibly uncomfortable and potentially risked adverse health outcomes," he said.

In another incident, a woman - who was a protected person under a Domestic Violence Order - reported an assault at a venue in the company of her children.

Police dismissed the woman's claim, told her to "calm down" and said they might arrest her.

An investigation found "police conducted no investigation into (the) allegations of domestic violence ... at no time did police provide (the woman) with any reassurance; attempt to de-escalate the situation, attempt to obtain any details in relation to witnesses, children or the alleged offender".

In another instance, a woman walked up to an officer and reported being sexually assaulted by a man who had just walked past.

The officer thought the woman was drunk and said "go home, get out of here" and "piss off you're drunk". 

The Ombudsman found the incident was later reported to other police but the first officer claimed he knew nothing about the situation and later provided only basic details.

A file photo of Nicole Manison
NT Deputy Chief Minister Nicole Manison defended the force, saying it had enough oversight.

After admitting the breaches and apologising to the woman, he received disciplinary action from the force.

There were ten complaints finalised over 2022/2023 relating to domestic violence or sexual abuse involving failings in behaviour towards or treatment of victims.

Nine of the matters involved a delay or failure to adequately investigate the incidents.

The total number of police conduct complaints over 2022/2023 declined from the previous year, from 612 to 465. 

"On its face, this is a welcome development," Mr Shoyer said.

"However, we have not been able to identify an obvious cause for the decline."

Deputy Chief Minister Nicole Manison said NT Police had enough oversight.

"I don't think there's any organisation or any government cohort more scrutinised than police," she told reporters on Friday.

"I think it's in line with normal expectations."

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