Monday, July 15, 2024

Police criticised over heavy vehicle towing contract failures

The Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) has found that for the last eight years Police failed to properly monitor whether a consortium of heavy vehicle towing contractors – contracted by Police for vehicle recovery on Auckland motorways – have been compliant with the law.

The Authority’s investigation stemmed from a complaint by another heavy vehicle towing company about the circumstances under which the contract was awarded in 2013, and its concerns that since then the individual companies making up the consortium awarded the contract have regularly been using tow vehicles that did not comply with the towing regulations.

In a report handed down today, the Authority found that the 2013 contract was conditional upon Police inspection of the consortium’s vehicles to ensure that they were compliant and fit for purpose.

“However, this did not occur, and despite renewals of the contract Police had never undertaken any systematic inspections of operational vehicles. Police have had no knowledge whether the consortium complied with the requirements of the contract,” the IPCA report states.

“The Authority has found that Police should not have entered into, or subsequently renewed the contract, as it had real safety and congestion-management implications for road users.”

The Authority’s own investigation, and subsequent audits this year by Waka Kotahi and Police, have confirmed that the consortium has not had sufficient vehicles with the necessary towing capacity and have therefore been able to fulfil the terms of the contract only by using unsafe and non-compliant vehicles. Although Police were aware of these non-compliance issues, they did not take appropriate action to address them.

“Quite apart from contractual matters, the need to ensure the safety of road users makes it incumbent on Police to ensure any contractor is a compliant operator under the contract”, said Authority Chair, Judge Colin Doherty.

The Authority also criticised the way Police have responded to complaints about the consortium’s operation. The Authority found that the Police response to these complaints was inadequate, and that the only investigation into their complaints undertaken was by an officer who was involved in the matters complained about and therefore lacked impartiality.

NZ Police has acknowledged the findings in today’s report.

“Police is addressing the concerns highlighted in the report, including a national audit of heavy vehicle towing contracts to ensure best practice and compliance,” said Assistant Commissioner, Deployment and Road Policing, Bruce O’Brien.

“We accept that this was not good enough and not up to Police’s usual high standard of managing contracts.

“Waka Kotahi manages the regulatory requirements for these large recovery vehicles, and Police is responsible for monitoring the commercial vehicle industry.”

He said the contract awarded to Company Y was conditional upon regular inspections being conducted by Police – these inspections did not occur.

“We acknowledge the importance of removing heavy motor vehicles from the road and understand the potential impact failing to inspect these vehicles could have on road users.”

“Police will ensure going forward that there is a focus on the compliance of heavy vehicle towing contractors to ensure the safety of all road users,” said Assistant Commissioner O’Brien.

The complaint also raised concerns regarding a donation offered to Police by Company Y during their bid for the contract.

“Police does not accept the finding by the IPCA that the offer of a donation should have been removed from Company Y’s tender document and their application resubmitted,” Assistant Commissioner O’Brien said.

“The donation was not accepted, and the offer was not a contributing factor in the score which resulted in awarding the contract with Company Y.”

The Authority found that Police were at times incorrectly overruling the driver/owner’s choice of recovery operator.

“Police has since developed appropriate guidelines to deal with the driver/owner’s choice of operator.”

Police continues to use Company Y for heavy vehicle towing on the Auckland Motorway with the exception of vehicles in excess of 36,000kg.

“A letter was sent by Police to Company Y outlining concerns regarding the company’s capacity to tow loads of more than this weight,” said Assistant Commissioner O’Brien.

“Police will not use this company for towing heavy vehicles with a weight in excess of 36,000kg until the matter is resolved – an independent engineer has been engaged to assess this. The findings will be shared with the Authority in the near future.”

Annual audits of Company Y’s fleet will also be conducted in alignment with the contractual obligations, NZ Police said.

The Authority found that Police has been interpreting and exercising its powers under section 113(2) and (d) of the Land Transport Act 1998 incorrectly.

The Commercial Vehicle Safety Team (CVST) has recently developed and circulated guidelines regarding the interpretation and application of s113 to ensure this is understood and applied correctly by staff.

“We would like to apologise to Company X for failing to properly address the initial complaint,” said Assistant Commissioner O’Brien.

“In retrospect, we also acknowledge that the officer who did eventually investigate the complaint should have been a different investigator to ensure impartiality. 

“A process was introduced last year that involves supervisors from different CVST areas investigating complaints, to ensure impartiality and mitigate conflict of interest risks,” he said.

Latest Articles