Police policy on access to data rewritten, but will attitudes change too?

By Melissa Nightingale

Jarrod Gilbert said the new policy wording was "brilliant". Photo/file
Jarrod Gilbert said the new policy wording was "brilliant". Photo/file

Police have rewritten a policy that gave officers the power to "improve" research which showed "negative results" and then "veto" its publication for academics accessing crime data.

A copy of the police-drawn contract given to academics wanting to access the publicly owned data showed those who did not comply would be placed on a blacklist which could extend to shutting off access to an entire university.

But the new policy released this month has taken out all references to police vetoing or improving research and blacklisting academics, something that is applauded by criminologist Dr Jarrod Gilbert, an academic at the University of Canterbury.

The "massive problem" with the old policy came to light in 2015 during a clash between Police national headquarters and Dr Gilbert.

It came with a personal ban for Dr Gilbert - police told him he wasn't allowed to access data because of his "association with gangs". He is the author of the award-winning book Patched: The History of Gangs in New Zealand and lectures on the subject.

The ban has since been remedied, and Dr Gilbert is delighted at the reworded policy.

"They said at the time when this all blew up, they said 'trust us, we will solve this'," he said.

"This, at face value, is a very, very good thing."

Dr Gilbert was concerned about whether or not the new wording would reflect a change in police culture, but said he would see how it played out.

"The issue that I had is that it wasn't always just about changing that wording, it was about changing a culture. It was about changing the police idea that they hold certain information. It doesn't actually belong to them, it belongs to all of us. It was about ensuring that academics had access to that information.

"This is brilliant, this is really, really positive . . . but the only thing I would say is that we now need to wait and see whether that plays out in reality, whether the words on paper become real."

Dr Gilbert said researchers should monitor the situation to see how it played out the next time they requested data, but in the mean time he would trust police.

- NZ Herald

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