Home > The Body Politic > Media stories of the Week: Police Commissioner Mike Bush on dubious police practices

Media stories of the Week: Police Commissioner Mike Bush on dubious police practices

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Every so often, the mainstream news media do their job well, and little nuggets of insights are revealed…

Also on TV3’s ‘The Nation‘, Police Commissioner Mike Bush was interviewed by veteran journalist-broadcaster, Lisa Owen.

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commisioner mike bush - the nation - 28 november 2015

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Some of the responses she elicited from the country’s most senior policeman were revealing.

Issue 1: The troubling case of Dr Jarrod Gilbert

On Radio NZ’s ‘Morning Report‘, this country woke to disturbing news that NZ Police hierarchy were censoring academic researchers and preventing the use of collated data if it did not meet with their “standards”.

As reported by Radio NZ;

Jarrod Gilbert, a sociologist at the University of Canterbury, said police had told him he could not get simple data on where incidents such as assaults happen because of his association with gangs.

He said that association should come as no surprise.

“I entered the field as an academic and did the two largest studies on gangs this country’s ever seen.

“So in effect I’m being banned from studying crime, because I hang out with criminals, it’s just insane.”

Dr Gilbert said that Police insisted that academics sign a contract binding them to produce reports that did not have “negative results”;

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police contract with academics

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police contract with academics (2)

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police contract with academics (3)

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Acknowledgement for above screen-shots: Jarrod Gilbert’s Blog

Most reasonable people would be aghast that a State agency – especially one with uniquely coercive powers such as the NZ Police – would think it acceptable behaviour to impose such restrictions on free academic research. Such controls are rarely seen outside of autocratic regimes such as dictatorships, one-party states, and governments operating under war-time conditions and/or a State of Emergency.

What might have been appropriate under Pinochet’s Chile; Gaddafi’s Libya, or the former East German Democratic Republic, has been playing out under our noses in good old, laid-back, “She’ll Be Right“, New Zealand.

As Dr Gilbert’s story went from Radio NZ to the rest of the msm (temporarily setting aside stories relating to Ritchie McCaw’s knighthood and latest hero-worship of our esteemed Dear Leader), and criticism of the Police’s authoritarian stance drew more criticism,  Deputy Chief Executive [of? for?] Strategy Mark Evans defended his organisation’s quasi-Stalinistic controls over the free-flow of information.

At 1.40pm on the same day Dr Gilbert went public, Deputy Chief Executive Strategy Mark Evans issued this statement;

Police places a high value in academic research which provides evidence to improve Police policy and practice. It is essential that our policing strategies and tactics are effective and focused. Having an evidence-based approach towards policing enables us to understand ‘what works’ best, and then put that into practice. Police has strong links with academic institutions and individual researchers who are involved in a range of research to encourage debate on various aspects of police work.

Police receives a large number of individual requests for academic research – 37 applications in 2014.  While Police already publishes large volumes of data, such research requests often involve access to confidential information, which can include personal identifiers. There can also be a substantial resourcing commitment involved in providing such information. 

To ensure appropriate decisions are made about such applications there is a robust process in place to ensure that they have benefits for Police, are of good standard, meet our privacy obligations and are feasible in relation to the demands on Police time and resources.   This process includes a Police vetting check on individuals involved in a research application.

The research agreement which academics are expected to sign with Police sets out our expectations, including that research is accurate, balanced and constructive.  Police reserves the right to discuss research findings with the academic if it misunderstands or misrepresents police data and information. Police also reserves the right to prevent further access to Police resources if a researcher commits any breach of the agreement.

Our priority is always to ensure that an appropriate balance is drawn between the privacy of individuals and academic freedom.  To date Police have not prevented access by any academic under this clause in the agreement.

While we will not discuss specific matters regarding Dr Gilbert, we can say that we have communicated to him that further consideration will be given to our decision regarding the security clearance (police vetting) check.

END

It is as if the Police have never heard of the Official Information Act 1982.

However, this was far from the “END” as Evans put at the conclusion of his statement.

Three days later, Commissioner Mike Bush was forced to accept that Police policy was out of step with a supposedly open, transparent, and democratic society. On ‘The Nation‘, interviewed by Lisa Owen at National Police Headquarters (?), Bush stated;

“So, what’s happened in the last week has caused us to really have a look at our policy. It was possibly fit for purpose at one stage. It’s not fit for purpose now. We work in a dynamic environment. So that’s being reviewed as we speak, both the policy and the decision that was made in respect of Dr Jarrod Gilbert, and I’m sure you’ll hear more about our review of that next week. But it’s also important to point out that the intent of that was to keep people’s information private, and that’s why we have some policies and rules.

[…]

Yeah, that’s why we will be changing the wording of that policy and what it’s about, because the frustrating thing is it’s the opposite that’s true in terms of where we’re at at the moment. We’re wanting to build great relationships with academia because we’re determined to be a very evidence-based police service.”

It took three days, but hopefully the Police hierarchy have realised that this is not former East Germany or Pinochet’s Chile, and they are not the Kiwi-equivalent of the Stasi.

What should concern all New Zealanders, regardless of political persuasion, is not that the Police made this outrageous policy blunder – but that they thought it was appropriate in the first place.

It is my contention that Police actions in this area are symptomatic of a wider malaise in our country. Attitudes held by National, and others in positions of  State power, believe that State Authority over-rides freedom of information; civil liberties; and that the public are beholden to politicians and their state agency employees.

On 10 March 2014 John Key stated in an interview on ‘The Nation‘;

“You’ve got to think, we’ve been way more transparent than any other Government that’s been around…”

When a Prime Minister has to try to convince us that his government is “transparent”, there is a problem.

We shouldn’t have to be convinced if it’s true.

Issue 2: Police Budget

Lisa Owen raised the issue of funding for the Police. She asked;

“Okay. Well, you’re monitoring these detainees, and that is an example of the more jobs that you are being asked to do without extra funding, because, if you look at the figures, you’ve had to suck up, I think it is, about 300 million in new costs in the past four years without real budget increases. So where are you trimming to make ends meet?”

Commissioner Bush replied;

“So, the first thing is we have had an increase in our budget by 41 million recently.”

As this blogger reported on  30 October;

On top of which, using the Reserve Bank inflation calculator, it is fairly simple to determine that the Police budget has not kept pace with inflation.

Research going back to 2008 shows that Vote Police has  dropped in dollar-terms (using 2008 Dollars as the base), and in 2015/16, the Police will be allocated $1.422 billion (in 2008 dollars) – compared to the $1.445 billion in 2008.

‘Vote Police’ – Budgets 2008-2015 – Total Annual and Permanent Appropriations

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vote-police-2008-2016

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* Using Reserve Bank NZ Inflation Adjuster from Budget Month/Year Q2 dollars into 2008 Q2 dollars. (http://www.rbnz.govt.nz/monetary_policy/inflation_calculator/)

The figures do not support the claims made by the Commissioner of any increase to the Police budget.

Which raises the question why Commissioner Bush would make a statement that, as the country’s “top cop”, he must know is factually incorrect?  Claiming that the Police budget has increased when actually the opposite has occurred sounds like he is covering for the current National government.

Which is a distinct possibility recently raised by another blogger, Curwen Rolinson;

There is very much a two-way relationship between the New Zealand Police and the New Zealand National Party. They each work together to cover each other’s backs and to make the other partner look good. They’ve got it down to such a fine art that they don’t even necessarily need to sotto-voce instruct one another to make this happen. When something happens that might embarrass the Police, certain parts of the Government will step in or look the other way to ensure it doesn’t untowardly scandalize them (or, heaven forbid, actually provide serious impetus for change). Equally, when the Police turn up something that might take some of the luster out of the Government’s sails, they’ll deliberately hide, lie and obfuscate in order to make sure the “right” outcomes come out for their pals. Not necessarily as an organization, mind – occasionally as isolated individuals or as small-scale units … but the effect is all the same.

Admitting that the Police budget has suffered ongoing cuts (after inflation is factored in) would definitely “take some of the luster out of the Government’s sails” – something embarrassing to a party that has made a fetish out of being “staying strong on crime“.

Commissioner Bush’s statement on the Police budget was revealing, but not quite as he intended.

Issue 3: ISIS/terrorism

On 24 February 2015, Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee announced that National would be sending troops to Iraq to “train Iraqi soldiers” in their fight against ISIS.

Chipping in for his mate, Foreign Affairs Minister, Murray McCully, said at the time;

“The New Zealand government has been very clear that in addition to deploying non-combat troops to help train Iraqi forces, we also need to take steps to combat ISIL at the diplomatic level and provide humanitarian support to those displaced by the fighting in the region.”

The deployment was roundly condemed by Labour, Greens, Maori Party, Peter Dunne, and NZ First, saying that National had no mandate to commit troops to Iraq, even for so-called “training” purposes.  Maori Party co-leader, Te Ururoa Flavell was prescient when he issued this warning in Parliament;

“So let us be under no illusion that by sending training troops and other personnel to the region we are not effectively raising our heads above the parapet. This decision increases the chances of Aotearoa being a target for rogue ISIS attacks.”

Nine months later, and ISIS has discovered New Zealand’s involvement in American adventurism in the Middle East. As TV3 News  reported;

Islamic State (IS) has vowed to destroy New Zealand in a chilling new propaganda video.

The New Zealand flag appears among 60 others in the slick video published by the group’s media arm.

In the video, New Zealand is named among its allies as part of the “coalition against Islamic State”.

New Zealand made the list because of humanitarian and military aid efforts abroad.

The screen-shot from the ISIS propaganda video clearly shows our flag, “Old Blue”, encircled in red;

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global coalition flags - new zealand

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It seems that the similarity of our flag to Australia’s may not be much use to us now. So much for “camouflage”.

On ‘The Nation‘, Commissioner Bush attempted to make reassuring noises to quell any public disquiet on potential terrorist attacks;

“We are very practised and very ready and very well trained if something does occur in New Zealand, so we’re really ready to respond.”

Which is not very reassuring at all.

If a terrorist incident does occur in New Zealand – the first since one of our “allies” bombed an unarmed vessel in one of our harbours in 1985 – responsibility for any injuries or deaths can be sheeted home to one man, and one man alone: John Key.

The responsibility for putting our nation in harms way rests solely on his head.

Issue 4: Lies, Damned Lies, and Bogus Statistics

The story of bogus statistics broke in the Herald in July, last year;

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Police made burglaries vanish - greg o'conner - national - crime statistics

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It took journalist Eugene Bingham two years to uncover information requested under the Official Information Act;

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Two-year search for 'ghost crimes' truth - greg o'conner - national - crime statistics

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When the Herald finally received the information they had requested, a startling item of incriminating nature was discovered;

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Calls for 'ghost crimes' inquiry after police note revealed - commissioner bush

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A damning internal police document has emerged that appears to show senior officers discussed not releasing embarrassing details about the “ghost crimes” controversy in which 700 burglaries vanished from official crime statistics.

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The memo, known within police as a job sheet, states John Tims had been advised by then-deputy commissioner Bush and assistant commissioner Allan Boreham not to respond to the [OIA] request. Brady [see image above] wrote: “(Tims) had been advised to let the request sit and when and if (3rd Degree) followed up with a request the matter would be addressed then.

“The direction to me was to not respond to the Official Information Act request and file the file as it is.”

[…]

However, Brady, when contacted by the Herald on Sunday, stood firmly behind his job sheet. “The job sheet records my conversation with Superintendent Tims and that’s about as far as I’m going to go with it. I think the job sheet is self-explanatory.

“My job sheet is my job sheet. It’s the record of my conversation and I have no other comment to make about that document.”

Lisa Owen pointedly asked Commissioner Bush;

“One last thing I want to ask you about before I go, Commissioner. Last night I spoke to the ombudsman about a complaint that relates to you. It’s an allegation that you instructed staff to let an Official Information Act request sit to stall the release of information relating to doctored burglary stats. So I want to give you the opportunity to answer to that. Did you do that?”

Commissioner Bush replied;

“Absolutely not. For obvious reasons, I kept myself well away from everything that was going on in that space because I was the district commander at the time. So that’s absolutely not correct, and, yeah, I distance myself for obvious reasons.”

Ms Owen persisted;

Owen: Okay, well, I’m wondering why a police officer would record in his job sheet that you did do that, then. Is that person lying when they say that you did, and I’ve got the job sheet here if you needed to refresh your memory. The job sheet says , ‘The direction to me was not to respond to the Official Information Act request and file the file as it is.’ Have you seen it? I’ve got it.

Bush: I have seen it, yeah.

Owen: Yeah. So was that officer lying or…?

Bush: That officer is absolutely incorrect. That did not occur.

Owen: So why would that officer write that on a job sheet?

Bush: I have no idea, but I can say it’s absolutely incorrect.

Commissioner Bush’s facial expression and voice tone  is worth considering when he denies instructing an investigating police officer to withhold responding to an OIA request.

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I leave it to the viewer to make his/her own determination on the matter.

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References

Radio NZ: Morning Report – Jarrod Gilbert

Radio NZ: Police block gang expert’s data access

Dr Gilbert’s Blog: The Police research contract

New Zealand Police: Deputy Chief Executive Strategy

New Zealand Police: Police statement on academic research applications

TV3: The Nation – Interview with Prime Minister John Key

TV3: The Nation – Interview with Commissioner Mike Bush

TV3: The Nation – Interview with Commissioner Mike Bush (Transcript)

Treasury: Budget 2008

Treasury: Budget 2014

Treasury: Budget 2015

Radio NZ: Brownlee outlines Iraq deployment

Radio NZ: Iraq deployment condemned

Parliament: Ministerial Statements — Iraq—Deployment of Military Personnel

Fairfax media: NZ flag shown in Islamic State video on group’s enemies

TV3 News: NZ on list of Islamic State targets in new video

NZ Herald:  Police made burglaries vanish

NZ Herald:  Two-year search for ‘ghost crimes’ truth

NZ Herald: Calls for ‘ghost crimes’ inquiry after police note revealed

Previous related blogposts

Weekend Revelations #3 – Greg O’Connor and criminal statistics

Other bloggers

The Daily Blog: Is There A “Special Relationship” Between The National Party And NZ Police?

The Standard: Jarrod Gilbert is tilting at windmills

The Standard: Jarrod Gilbert 1 – Windmills 0

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 30 November 2015.

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