Former Police Commissioner Mike Bush recently announced police had eliminated unconscious bias and applied discretion equally with low-level offences - only it was not true.
A police spokeswoman said Bush had been provided with "incorrect information", which he quoted before the pandemic response select committee on April 2, and in national media interviews on the same day upon his retirement.
Police have apologised to Bush, and there had been no intention to mislead the public, she said.
Under Bush's tenure police acknowledged unconscious bias towards Māori existed in police, and last year launched Te Huringa o Te Tai, a refreshed strategy to cut Māori reoffending and increase community and iwi-based justice alternatives.
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So when it came to his retirement on April 2, during his final committee appearance, Labour MP Kiri Allan asked about police discretion.
"Historically our use of discretion has not been applied evenly across different communities, something we acknowledged years ago," Bush said.
"We've moved a very long way. We now have data in place, and apply that discretion evenly across communities.
"That has been a big journey for us, and we maintain an absolute focus on being fair and equal."
Bush repeated the line in a subsequent interview with the Herald: "We've worked really hard on it and it's nice to be able to report that we now apply our discretion evenly in that space."
Police Commissioner has told the Covid Comtee they have eliminated bias and Armed Teams will cease at end of April pending review. I’ve asked for racial bias training material and terms of review, how will groups like youth and Māori will be made to feel safe providing feedback?— Golriz Ghahraman (@golrizghahraman) April 1, 2020
The comment came as a surprise to many working in the justice sector, including Julia Whaipooti, who was a member of the Safe and Effective Justice Advisory Group appointed by Justice Minister Andrew Little, and who lodged an Official Information Act request to discover how police had so quickly addressed its discretion problem.
Just over a month later came a refusal to grant the request, stating the information "does not exist".
The Herald then followed this response up with police, requesting an explanation for why Bush had told the public the information not only existed, but showed equal application.
It took six weeks before police provided an answer, admitting the information provided to Bush was incorrect.
Bush was referencing figures in their quarterly Māori strategy report, produced by the Evidence Based Policing Centre.
However, an "analytical error" was discovered after his public comments.
It turned out precharge warnings were applied in 53 per cent of eligible cases for Māori, and 59 per cent for non-Māori, in the months July to December last year, the latest available information.
The Herald requested further data but police have not responded by deadline.
As police officers have the ability to exercise discretion around the decision to charge someone, the data for precharge warnings has been used as a proxy measure for how discretion has been applied.
Bush told the Herald it was "disappointing" to have made an incorrect statement, but he denied there was any intention to lie or mislead.
Once police discovered the error, the select committee was contacted with the correct information, he said.
Police have not answered questions from the Herald about exactly when the error was discovered and when the committee was contacted.
While discretion was "not quite" being applied evenly, a lot had been achieved under his tenure, Bush said.
"We owned [the bias], were one of the first public organisations to do so, and set about addressing it."
Bush pointed also to the relaunched Te Huringa o Te Tai strategy as an example.
However, justice advocates have expressed little faith in it, given the previous strategy under the same name failed to meet five out of seven targets to cut Māori reoffending.
Over the six years it ran, Māori reoffending rates actually increased, while for non-Māori they went down.
The Government has also set targets reduce the proportion of Māori in prisons, who make up about 52 per cent of the male prison muster, 57 per cent of the female muster, and 67 per cent of the youth muster.
While there has been a small decrease in the number of people imprisoned over the past two years, the proportion overall who are Māori has increased slightly, from 50 per cent to 53 per cent. A decade ago it sat at 51 per cent.
Paramedic and medical student Timothy Morrison, 52, believes his life would have turned out very differently if he had not been "targeted" by police as a young Māori boy growing up in Māngere.
Many of the crimes he was prosecuted for, including offences like littering, abusive language, and a failed manslaughter prosecution in 2012, might not have been pursued by police were he Pākehā, he said.
"If I didn't have those kinds of interactions I would be here, helping people, a lot sooner," Morrison told the Herald.
He's lodged a Waitangi Tribunal claim into the role of police bias in prosecuting Māori, so young Māori men and women don't miss out on opportunities he did.
He wanted to see more transparency, including reporting by ethnicity on discretion to prosecute, and a new body to look at those decisions to determine whether bias against Māori might have had an influence.
"It is not just individual officers, who are often the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, but pressure from politicians, social issues, prosecutors - we need to look at the whole range of things together."
Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson, who also questioned Bush about police discretion and bias during the committee meeting, said to her knowledge neither he nor police had reached out to correct their response.
It was no surprise to hear the data was incorrect, because Māori faced discrimination at "every step of the justice system, as a result of centuries of systemic racism", she said.
"We will continue to push for a police force which treats everyone equally, including in our discussions with Police Commissioner Andrew Coster."