West Coast police accused of censorship

By Lee Scanlon -
John Canning said his successor was "well amiss of the mark" with her comments about what police should tell the public. Photo / File
John Canning said his successor was "well amiss of the mark" with her comments about what police should tell the public. Photo / File

Police pushing good news while choosing which bad news to tell the public equates to police censorship, says the West Coast's former top cop.

John Canning said his successor, Inspector Mel Aitken, was "well amiss of the mark" with her comments about what police should tell the public.

Ms Aitken told the Westport News on Wednesday that talking about police responding to crime was the "old school way of thinking".

She said police wanted to publicise the "good stuff" and "prevention stuff".

"I absolutely don't believe that the community needs to know every time we have a burglary, or that somebody is dealt with and locked up because maybe they did something offensive," Ms Aitken said.

Mr Canning said her thinking was "flawed".

"If the public want to know something that's going on in their area, who are we [police] to censor it? Why are the police censoring what's going on in the community?"

He said police were there to serve the public. There was no reason police couldn't give the good and bad news. "One doesn't exclude the other."

Ms Aitken said the local community didn't need to know about incidents like police tasering an offender. She said telling the public could make them feel more unsafe.

Mr Canning disagreed. "That's censorship," he said.

He believed Ms Aitken was "tied up in big town thinking".

"We have got the metro model being imposed on small towns. And in New Zealand there's a real difference between metro policing, provincial policing and rural policing. One size does not fit all."

In Westport, daily news briefings from local police have disappeared since the police national communications centre opened in May, despite police assurances reporters would still be able to talk to local police.

Ms Aitken told the Westport News on Wednesday that Coast media should be using the hub as the first point of contact until the Coast police restructure was completed. However she made it clear local police would choose which crimes they made public.

When asked how police hoped to retain public support, if the public didn't know what police were doing, she said:

"It's a different mindset. If we can show them the good stuff we're doing and the prevention stuff we're doing, that's what we're here to do.

"The response stuff is the old school way of thinking."

Mr Canning said the public paid police wages and had a right to know what police were doing.

Without community support, police couldn't do their jobs, he said. "You'd end up like the States, where everyone's got a gun because the police don't have the support of the community."

He said he used to encourage local police officers to talk to the media.

"They got a profile with the community - the community got to know what was going on. It builds bridges - and there are times when you need it."

He did not believe the police should have set up a national communications centre. "It's a step backwards. It's empire building for somebody but it doesn't actually help the community, it doesn't help the frontline officers.

"It ignores the community's right to know, the community's desire to know."

Unlike the West Coast, local police were still talking daily to local media in many parts of New Zealand, Mr Canning said.

"Community policing says you should be doing it."

Mr Canning retired in January after 40 years' service, including 20 years on the West Coast -- seven of them as the region's top cop.

Ms Aitken today declined to respond to his comments.

Police communications manager Grant Ogilvie told The Press it was not police policy to reveal only "good stuff".

He said the national media centre received 800 calls a week on 300 different issues. "A huge number of those are crime and bad news."

He said the centre had received some negative feedback since it opened.

"We didn't expect to get it right from day one. It will take time to work through all the issues."

Mr Ogilvie said some police staff had misinterpreted the new system as being the only point of contact for journalists.

"The new media structure does not change the ability of local police to talk to local media about local issues.

"Police staff are engaging with the media on a local level in quite a few areas but one or two, like the West Coast area, are still working that out," he told The Press.

West Coast police today issued an invitation to local media to meet themselves and Mr Ogilvie in Greymouth on July 18 to discuss "moving forward and building relationships". WPN

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW

© Copyright 2016, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf05 at 02 Oct 2016 12:00:17 Processing Time: 574ms