Opposition parties have called on police minister Michael Woodhouse to explain why police attach conditions to the release to academics of publicly-owned crime data.

Green Party police spokesman David Clendon said Mr Woodhouse and Justice Minister Amy Adams needed to speak out over the police contract which compels researchers to produce a draft which could then be vetoed.

The police contract also tells academics they are bound to work with police over "negative findings" to "improve outcomes".

READ MORE: My police file: 17 pages all blacked out


Mr Woodhouse and Ms Adams have refused to comment. Mr Adams said it was an "operational" issue for police while Ms Adams, whose office forms justice policy using research such as that affected by the contract, referred calls to Mr Woodhouse.

"It's policy driven. It's clear the Minister sets policy which police then implement."

Mr Clendon said he could understand why police would put constraints around confidential or sensitive information. But not data.

"Basic data about offending - I would have thought that would be readily available."
He said government ministers needed to speak on the issue.

"The police minister sits in a difference cubicle to the justice minister but it ought to be an integrated system. The justice sector needs to operate in a joined up way."

Labour's Justice spokesman Jacinda Ardern said Ms Adams should be asking Mr Woodhouse questions over the contract.

"Ultimately, this is information around justice policy - it just so happens police are the guardians of the information."

While the police contract talks about protecting confidential information, it was also used to set conditions around the access of data to be used in a project studying links between alcohol and crime.


An 'ongoing review' underway

Police have an "ongoing review" underway into how academics access information which has already led to one change to the "blacklist" contract.

But the changes left in almost all of the most controversial aspects which have sparked accusations of academic freedom being under threat.

A spokesman for Police National Headquarters told the Herald the changes were "part of a wider review of how we manage academic research applications which had been ongoing since last year".

The contract still includes an obligation for academics to show police a draft, to work on "negative results" with police to "improve its outcomes" and threatens a "blacklist" for those not complying.

However, it has qualified the blanket "veto" police asked researchers to surrender over their research which specific conditions.

The veto still grants police the "sole right to veto from release any project findings that relate to NZ Police or any privileged NZ Police information".

But it now says police will exercise the veto with consideration for security issues or any potential impact on police inquiries, operations, prosecution or public safety.

The issue emerged in a disagreement between police and University of Canterbury lecturer Dr Jarrod Gilbert, a criminologist seeking data on crimes committed near licensed liquor outlets in Christchurch. It included police banning Dr Gilbert's access to the data because the respected gang researcher and author of a history on gangs was considered "associated with gangs".

The Vice Chancellor of the University of Canterbury Dr Rod Carr told the Herald he backed Dr Gilbert's decision to make the issue public.

"I would defend his right and the opportunity he has taken to highlight the terms police have put in their contract. Whether they are terms the police would wish to continue with is entirely a matter for police."

Dr Carr said the publication of the contract was a matter of "public interest". "Whether that is the right balance is a matter for the police as an agency of government to reflect on."

He said it was "always sensible" for agencies to review decisions in the public eye because there was a "different perspective" over the way they operated. Any review would be of interest to the university community, he said.

Dr Carr said debate touched on the issue of the "protection and preservation of academic freedom". He said the Education Act placed an obligation on academics to be the "critic and conscience of society", which included having the freedom to pursue their areas of research and publish their findings.

Dr Carr said any government agency receiving a request for research information should apply the Official Information Act. He said if information sought was not able to be obtained through the Official Information Act, for one of the reasons for withholding it made explicit in the legislation, then researchers were in a position where they had to negotiate for access.

"It should be for each individual researcher to determine the grounds on which they would or wouldn't agree to access that information."

Police contracts 'shutting down debate'

The contract which police make academics sign to access research data contains conditions which are increasingly found across the public service, says the union for the tertiary education sector.

NZ Tertiary Education Union president Dr Sandra Grey said she believed the conditions, which were attached to academics accessing publicly-owned data, were being created because of the potential for political discomfort.

"Government departments are very sensitive to what headlines look like - as are ministers. It's shutting down debate," Dr Grey said.

"I can see a case where researchers will self-censor and the integrity of their work becomes problematic. I would caution any academics against signing contracts that threaten to limit academic freedom."

Last year, in an online survey by the NZ Association of Scientists 39.8 per cent of those responding said they had been kept from making public comment on controversial issues by their employer's policy or for fear of losing funding.

The Herald revealed this morning that a police contract governing the access of data used for academic research was conditional on police having a "veto" power over the outcome.

The contract also forced academics to give police a draft of the final research in case of "negative results" and to then work with researchers to "improve its outcomes".

The contract emerged in a disagreement between renowned gang expert Dr Jarrod Gilbert and the police when the academic and Herald columnist attempted to access data for a Government research project on crime near licensed liquor outlets. Dr Gilbert, a lecturer at the University of Canterbury, also found himself personally banned because of his "association with gangs".

Both the Minister of Police Michael Woodhouse and the Justice Minister Amy Adams, whose department relies on research to form crime and justice policy, have refused to comment.

Labour justice spokeswoman Jacinda Ardern said Mrs Adams had to ask questions of Mr Woodhouse because of the caveat police attached to the use of the data. "Ultimately this is information around justice policy."

On Dr Gilbert's personal ban, she said she had hoped police would be "sophisticated enough" to spot the difference between a gang researcher and gang associate.

Green Party police spokesman David Clendon said the contract was a "direct assault on academic freedom".

"This has all the hallmarks of a very risk-averse political document. I think most police officers would be upset to see independent researchers threatened in this way."

Police deputy chief executive Mark Evans has stood by the contract, saying it was necessary in cases where academics didn't understand or misrepresented information from police.

As part of accessing the data, academics were "expected" to sign a contract in which police set expectations around accuracy, balance and purpose. "Police reserves the right to discuss research findings with the academic if it misunderstands or misrepresents police data and information."

There was a "high value" in research which "provides evidence to improve police policy and practice", he said.

Mr Evans said police would block further access of anyone breaching the agreement - but didn't use the word "blacklist" which is in the contract. He said there was no one currently banned.

No details for the banning of Dr Gilbert were revealed, although Mr Evans said the academic had been told his objection had led to police reconsidering its position.

• Are you a researcher or academic obliged to sign a contract with a government department for access to information or data for your work on condition your research is handed over for review and possible veto? If so, contact david.fisher@nzherald.co.nz or Newsdesk@nzherald.co.nz in confidence.