The prolonged investigation of a poaching incident involving two off-duty police officers gave the impression they received favourable treatment, the police watchdog says.
The two Christchurch officers were among four men in a SUV a farmer found allegedly spotlighting on private land near Omakau in January last year.
The Independent Police Conduct Authority received four complaints about a delayed police investigation over the matter - that police were treating the officers more favourably than they would members of the public.
The complaints included not keeping the landowner up to date, "double-standards", and not prosecuting the officers.
The decision not to prosecute was reasonable and justifiable but they should have received formal warnings, the authority found.
The landowner recognised one of the officers and had refused him permission to hunt on his land earlier in the week.
The first investigating officer at the scene said he "wasn't going to interview cops", and that people might think that he had "looked after" his off-duty colleagues.
The police say they accept the findings that there were delays with a police investigation and acknowledged the depth of feeling across the community over poaching.
A district working group has been established to provide guidance to staff, Southern district commander Superintendent Paul Basham says.
The authority also found:
*A more thorough scene examination should have been conducted and correct procedure wasn't followed
* It was not sufficient to only record general information about what the hunting party had been doing and why. Nor was it appropriate to rely on the word of the off-duty officers that the firearms were empty
* Investigating officers should have spoken to each occupant of the SUV separately
* The officers did not properly understand the offence of unlawful hunting, which led to gaps in the evidence collected at the scene
* There was false assumption that the lack of shots fired or carcasses at the scene meant that an offence could not have been committed.