Among the many other reasons we need to be grateful for our police force is the quality of the data they collect and keep. They are uniquely well placed to collate information concerning all types of criminal activity and, if we want to understand crime and how to prevent it, we must rely on their information, because criminals' own record-keeping is notoriously shoddy.

Researchers such as Jarrod Gilbert, author of the justly acclaimed Patched: The History of Gangs in New Zealand, depend on this material to do their work.

It is work which benefits us all. In Patched, for instance, he showed that much of what is commonly believed about gangs is incorrect. He is currently working on the subject of murder, also a topic about which many misconceptions abound.

So imagine his surprise when, on applying to obtain basic information, the police presented him with a contract to sign that would, among other things, require him to let them seek to "improve [his research's] outcomes" if, in Gilbert's words, "the results are deemed to be negative". They would also "retain the sole right to veto any findings from release". Any violation of this condition could result in blacklisting.


The usual chatterers will no doubt have been wringing their hands and claiming this means we live in a police state, but nothing could be further from the truth.

People who live in police states are aware of the fact; we, on the other hand, are under the impression we live in a liberal democracy, enjoying all the freedoms that generations before us went to war to preserve.

Sadly, conditioned by years of politicians telling us they know what's best and not to worry our pretty little heads about it, many people will think the police know what they are doing and are acting in our best interests, especially since Gilbert has two strikes against him already when it comes to public sympathy: he is an academic and a journalist.

But he is also a courageous and creative thinker who recently, for instance, drew our attention to the shocking fact that, if you are a New Zealander, the age at which you are likeliest to be a murder victim is before you turn 3.

I guess that doesn't make a lot of people look good, not least the police.

So you could be forgiven for thinking they want to hinder Gilbert's research because they don't like the truth he speaks. But that would be petty, wouldn't it?

And surely they wouldn't have anything against him on the basis of his involvement in the New Zealand Public Interest Project, which was recently formed to investigate "mistakes" in the justice system, such as the wrongful conviction of Teina Pora. That may not be the best example as there are still members of the police force who believe, despite incontrovertible evidence to the contrary, that Pora dunnit.

More than anything this imbroglio draws attention to the increasingly topsy-turvy nature of our society. It's no wonder the police think their job is to improve the outcomes of researchers rather than seeking to improve their own outcomes and reducing crime. They should be concentrating on doing their own job, rather than working to prevent other people, such as Gilbert, doing theirs.


This column doesn't normally do birthday shout-outs, but today her friends and family will celebrate the 100th birthday of Christina Brazier, mother of the late Graham.

I'm sure many Aucklanders would also extend their best wishes to an irascible, intelligent and humane woman who, in her Dominion Rd bookstore for several decades, was probably the most memorable bookseller this town will ever see.