Friday, July 19, 2024
10.6 C


My Account

- Advertisement -

Bombshell report


Police watchdog publishes findings

Media reporting on police unlawfully photographing young Wairarapa Māori has resulted in a ‘bombshell’ report from the police watchdog.

The findings of the Independent Police Conduct Authority [IPCA] and the Office of the Privacy Commissioner’s [OPC] joint inquiry, published on Thursday, found the unlawful practice to be widespread and racially biased.

It said systemic failures had led to police officers unlawfully capturing and storing the public’s biometric information for years, and recommended an overhaul of police practices.

Of the thousands of images captured and stored on police databases, half were of Māori.

Explosive findings included police unjustifiably photographing youth more than adults, and officers routinely copying and unlawfully retaining ‘voluntary’ fingerprints of minors in custody.

In response to the report, Police Commissioner Andrew Coster said police accepted the findings related to the photographing of rangatahi [youth].

The report comes two years after the launch of the joint inquiry after ‘substantial media publicity about police taking photographs’ of young Wairarapa Māori.

The reports detailed multiple incidents of Wairarapa police stopping Maori youth and photographing them in the street.

At the time, Wairarapa Area Commander Inspector Scott Miller said a review found three images were not taken under the right legislation and they were destroyed.

Police also instigated an internal review and further media reporting found the practice was widespread and historic.

The Acting Privacy Commissioner issued a compliance notice at the end of 2021 requiring police to stop photographing youth and taking their fingerprints.

After interviews with police officers, the scope of the joint inquiry broadened to include police capturing and storing biometric information of all members of the public, not just youth.

The investigation found thousands of photos of the public that should have been destroyed, were in fact stored on the mobile devices of individual officers and in police databases.

It found significant issues relating to police’s storage, retention, and disposal of photographs, and said there was no policy for police-issued mobile devices.

The report said issues had arisen from a lack of appropriate training and that police policies and practices were inconsistent with the Privacy Act. It found a routine practice of police taking ‘voluntary’ photos of the public with youth targeted more often than adults.

Officers said the practice was used to deter youth offending, despite no evidence to support it.

‘Many officers appear to have very little understanding of the law relating to the retention of these photographs.’

The report said police practices were also found to be inconsistent with child protection legislation, and in many cases contravened the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Oranga Tamariki Act.

It said many officers did not understand that youth were afforded extra rights and protection.

The report detailed five specific incidents dating back to 2014 of police photographing Māori youth without consent.

It said whānau had shared feelings of ‘whakama [shame], embarrassment, frustration, and anger’ as a result of police action. The families said it continued the cycle of racial bias experienced by Māori.

Although the joint inquiry did not include unconscious bias, it noted that ‘over half’ of the photographs retained were of Māori, and that police had instigated a long-term research programme into the issue.

The complaints related to incidents in Wairarapa, Hamilton, Whanganui, and Gisborne and included police photographing youth in custody, on the street, and one incident where the youth expressly refused consent.

Many of the complaints related to police investigating alleged offending in the area.

In 2020, police officers stopped three rangatahi in Wairarapa at night. While at the station, police questioned the youth about an alleged offending nearby and took their photo.

In the same year in Hamilton, police photographed two young Māori waiting at a bus stop half a kilometre away from a report of a burglary.

Neither of the youths matched the reported offenders’ descriptions.

In Whanganui in 2014, police stopped two Māori youths on the street and asked them about an alleged burglary before taking their photo.

The privacy commissioner and police watchdog said collecting biometric information was a necessary aspect of intelligence gathering, however, police must be able to point to its relevance in relation to a particular or likely investigation.

It concluded that police procedures and training need to be ‘significantly revised and enhanced’ to reflect the sensitivity of biometric information.

Mary Argue
Mary Argue
Mary Argue is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age with an interest in justice and the region’s emergency services, regularly covering Masterton District Court, Fire and Emergency and Police.

Related Articles

- Advertisement -
overcast clouds
10.6 ° C
12.2 °
10.6 °
90 %
88 %
11 °
12 °
14 °
10 °
10 °