Jared Savage

Jared Savage is the New Zealand Herald's investigations editor.

Police 'hung out to dry' over 'ghost crimes'

No dishonesty in recoded burglaries, says former cop, despite push to reduce crime

hundreds of burglaries disappeared from official crime statistics. Photo / Thinkstock
hundreds of burglaries disappeared from official crime statistics. Photo / Thinkstock

A senior officer in the police area where hundreds of burglaries disappeared from official crime statistics says his former boss and colleagues have been "hung out to dry".

Stuart Stone, a senior sergeant at Counties Manukau South during the three-year period in question, resigned shortly before an internal investigation into how 500 burglaries were incorrectly recoded as minor crimes, or incidents.

The review found the burglary recoding rates in the area at the time were 15 per cent to 30 per cent where other areas typically recoded about 5 per cent.

Mr Stone maintained that his departure was unconnected to the inquiry, but confirmed he was interviewed as part of the review which led to minor employment sanctions against five staff, including the area commander Inspector Gary Hill.

Mr Hill declined to comment yesterday and resigned six months after the internal review concluded to pursue business ventures.

Mr Stone was part of the management team based at Papakura between 2009 and 2012 but insisted there was nothing "underhanded" in the recoding of the burglary statistics. The codes were reviewed daily as offences were often recorded incorrectly by call-takers at the police communications in the first instance, said Mr Stone.

"The guys I was working with were really good people, I can't see them doing that ... It wasn't because they were fudging stats, it was to make sure the jobs were coded correctly," Mr Stone said.

"If that sort of stuff was going on, I would have been out of there. That's not why I left, I left because I'd had enough [of policing] and wanted to get back to the farm."

Mr Stone said Mr Hill and his former colleagues had been "thrown under the bus".

"There was nothing hidden there. Gary, I can tell you, would not have done anything intentional to defraud anyone. He was going places in the police," Mr Stone said. "He got hung out to dry."

Mr Stone said there was "huge competition" between the four area commanders in Counties Manukau to drive down crime and implement the Prevention First strategy under the direction of district commander Mike Bush, who is now Police Commissioner. "But I don't think anyone in the team I was with would recode stats to get one over another area," Mr Stone said. "There was no intent to defraud, or be dishonest. If there were mistakes made, there were mistakes made and they should learn from that. But I can honestly say there was no intent."

A review of the burglaries recoded between June 2009 and May 2012 found about 700 burglaries were recoded and of those 70 per cent should have remained as burglaries.

Fears more crime stats being altered

The Criminal Bar Association fears police manipulation of crime statistics is more widespread than the public has been led to believe.

President Tony Bouchier said he had no faith in police assurances that mistakes relating to the coding of South Auckland burglary stats were isolated and had now been rectified.

Not only were there question marks over statistics, but also charging practices, he said.

"Everyone in the whole justice sector - whether it's the Crown, legal aid, the courts, police - is being starved of money. A very good way of reducing crime is that you just don't arrest people."

Questions are being raised about senior Cabinet minister Judith Collins, who was told about problems with police statistics two months before police started their investigation into statistical errors, and three months before the police minister was alerted. When asked why she did not pass on the information, she said police were "already dealing with it", and it was something Police Minister Anne Tolley would have known about. Ms Collins is the Justice Minister and local MP for Papakura, where Counties Manukau police wrongly reclassified 500 burglaries to other offences or lesser incidents from 2009 to 2011. An internal police investigation led to sanctions for five police officers. She said she first heard rumours about statistics in February 2012, just after finishing her tenure as police minister.

Police were alerted in January 2012 to a complaint to the Independent Police Conduct Authority about statistics, but did not begin their investigation until April.

Labour police spokeswoman Jacinda Ardern said Ms Collins had appeared to have done nothing with the information.

"It seems from the evidence we have seen that the minister has certainly mishandled this. This is not something that should have been dismissed with such a light hand. It is so striking that the minister was so dismissive of such a significant issue."

Police Association president Greg O'Connor said he was "generally satisfied" that the errors were confined to Papakura.

"Police are very statistically driven to achieve results and that puts immense pressure on local and district commanders."


Who knew what when
January 2012: First complaint about burglary statistics to the IPCA, which is passed to police.
February 2012: Justice Minister Judith Collins hears rumours about problems with police statistics. Does not pass on information.
April 2012: Police start internal investigation.
May 2012: Police finish investigation, and brief Police Minister Anne Tolley.

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n1 at 23 Sep 2014 15:01:51 Processing Time: 551ms