Blood and guts
Unpredictable encounter leaves lone officer covered in dog bites and bruises.
Stuck on his back, half-blinded with blood and pepper spray on his face, Senior Constable Chris Barclay was feeling “prone”, to say the least, as a man and dog set on him in a vicious attack outside a Work and Income office in Foxton last month.
“Lying on your back on the ground being attacked by a dog is not a place you want to be for too long,” the 56-year-old officer recalled. “An animal is worse than a human attacker, as you have no idea what’s in its mind.”
Only moments before, Chris had been attending a callout to the Work and Income office after complaints about a man causing trouble there. As he arrived, the offender was just leaving, having been locked out by a security officer, but was continuing to yell abuse. “While I spoke to the Winz security staff, he continued to yell out abuse at me,” Chris said. “I told him to just be quiet, that people didn’t want to hear that kind of talk.”
The man was in the back of a nearby van, holding a dog on a chain. He continued to abuse Chris, saying he would put the dog on him and pushed the dog towards him. From about three metres away, Chris pepper-sprayed both the dog and the man, but to little effect.
Chris had a fleeting thought: “This isn’t going to end well.”
It happened quickly. The man put his arm over his eyes and charged at Chris with the dog.
“I ended up on the ground and because he was on top of me, my face was contaminated with the pepper spray. The dog was biting me. I was very prone on the ground and worried about my head and groin area. I managed to cover my face and was still trying to spray them.
“He punched me and the dog was biting my head.”
Chris couldn’t reach his OSA (officer safety alarm), but, having let go of the OC spray, he managed to get to his microphone to call for help. At that point, the man and the dog stopped the attack. Chris got to his feet and tried to boot the dog.
Help had arrived in the form of Chris’s colleague, Constable Alex Gulliver, who then pursued the man who had taken off in the van.
The offender was arrested at a property and the dog was impounded by animal control officers.
Meanwhile, Chris, who was covered in blood and dog bites, was keen to get to a tap to wash off the pepper spray. “People came out of the office and tried to get me to sit down, but I just wanted to get to a tap.”
Before he got cleaned up he took a couple of cellphone “selfies” for the record.
He had no idea what he looked like, but the photos revealed a grim sight – his face and head covered in dripping blood. He also had a 10 x 10 centimetre patch of bites on his side, a lot of teeth marks in his scalp, near his eyes and his elbow. “I was lucky they were just bites not tears,” he says matter-of-factly.
Now on antibiotics and recovering well, Chris said the attack was an example of the unpredictability of the job. “Officers are trained to make decisions on the spot and respond accordingly, but you can’t predict outcomes like this. All the training is not going to help you predict when you’re going to be attacked like this.
“Even if I had a Taser [which he didn’t because they have only one operational vehicle and he wasn’t in it], this situation did not initially meet the criteria to draw it.”
Chris said he had been well supported by the community, his colleagues and the Police Association.
The incident was a sad reflection of the increasing boldness of people to “have a go” at police.
The ambulance staff commented to him that they see a lot of these random attacks on people in uniform. “People make it very plain that they don’t like the uniform and they have a go. In the days when I was growing up, we would never have done anything like that.”
More serious assaults on police
The attack on Senior Constable Chris Barclay is yet another example of the rise in serious assaults on police officers in New Zealand.
Despite the Police hierarchy and politicians saying that assaults on police are down, the facts are that constabulary members are now twice as likely to be seriously assaulted as they were in 1998-99.
Police records show that although assaults in general have dropped from 1870 (during that period) to 1577 in 2013-14, included in that are assaults recorded under the Crimes Act, which actually rose from 185 to 481, after reaching a peak of 548 in 2010-11.
Crimes Act assaults have increased by 160 per cent since 1998-99.
“Considering how respective governments and administrations have hailed the drop in general crime over this period, these stats are even more alarming,” Police Association President Greg O’Connor said.
With members of the public now more willing to “have a go” at officers, with regular, almost weekly, attacks on staff, Mr O’Connor wants to remind members that the Association has its own register of assaults.
“Not all attacks on officers are reported to the media by Police, so it’s important to ensure we have an accurate record of assaults on members, whether they result in court action or not.”
Members can report assaults to their committee members. To check who your committee reps are, log in to www.policeassn.org.nz.
Safety at work
Last month, the Ministry of Social Development was charged under the Health and Safety in Employment Act, following the fatal shooting of two of its staff last year, with “failing to take all practicable steps to ensure the safety of its employees while at work”.
There are strong parallels between the environment at a Work and Income office and the front counter of a police station. They are both places where the public comes to seek advice or help. They are also both places with potential for serious confrontations and harm to staff.
Terror threats against police are on the rise around the world with officers identified as specific targets.
In such an environment, it’s disconcerting to the Police Association to see that New Zealand Police persists with a policy of “openness” and “shared spaces” at its newly designed police stations throughout the country.
Association committees have repeatedly stressed to Police that members in some of these stations believe their working conditions behind the front counter present a health and safety hazard.