Queenstown police picking incidents that are 'not for media'

Otago Lakes Central Area Commander Inspector Olaf Jensen says the term 'not for media' is only used for incidents that could be affected if there was a media release. Photo / James Allan
Otago Lakes Central Area Commander Inspector Olaf Jensen says the term 'not for media' is only used for incidents that could be affected if there was a media release. Photo / James Allan

Queenstown's top cop is failing to front after officers were caught cherry-picking what they're telling the media.

Between March and August, local police tagged four incidents "not for media" - including an alleged sexual assault.

They can only now be made public because of a Mountain Scene Official Information Act request.

The incidents were:

April 25: An alleged sexual assault in the Queenstown CBD;

June 2: Four men verbally abusing a doorman after one man was refused entry to a bar because he was drunk;

July 20: Cash in a bag found outside a Queenstown hotel. Owner picks up cash, which was all accounted for;

August 9: Search warrant executed in an "ongoing operation" - one individual referred to Youth Aid.

Area commander inspector Olaf Jensen provided a written answer to the request, saying the term 'not for media' generally applies to incidents where releasing information would hamper a police investigation or breach a person's privacy.

This newspaper asked if that relates to the four incidents they've released and for police to provide details of any arrests or charges.

But Jensen refused to be interviewed, writing in an email: "I will not be adding anything further to the response you have been supplied."

Journalism lecturer Greg Treadwell, of Auckland University of Technology - a former community police reporter - says it does appear to be an unacceptable case of police cherry-picking.

He accuses cops of "effectively keeping information secret" when they shouldn't.

"We need a full and detailed picture of what is going on in our communities, whether or not it suits the police."

He adds: "I commend Mountain Scene for its inquiry and would suggest police reporters all around the country might request under the act any items tagged 'not for media'."

In his written response to the Scene, Jensen says police fully understand the importance of releasing information to the media.

"The decision on what information may be released about these events is always made on a case-by-case basis."

He says "not for media" is "often applied in the very early stages of an event when police are still gathering information".

"As an investigation progresses, police may subsequently release inform-ation to the media in line with our obligations under relevant legislation."

The info request was prompted by a string of incidents attended by police which were only reported by this newspaper after tips from readers. They included the chopper rescue of a Chinese tourist from Queenstown Hill in June and a couple plucked from Queenstown's Kawarau River by four strangers after their jetboat sank in July.

The incidents weren't initially mentioned in regular cop briefings. And, as it turns out, they weren't tagged 'not for media' either.

In March, southern police commander superintendent Mike Pannett told officers in a 'staff advisory' not to make comments to media - especially printed media - by phone.

Pannett's leaving Dunedin for a new job at police national headquarters in Wellington.

- Mountain Scene

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