PM expects police protocols to change after they unlawfully photographed Māori

By Jessica Tyson

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says she expects NZ Police protocols to change after an investigation into police unlawfully detaining and photographing Māori in Northland.

The investigation by the Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) looked at photographs taken at a checkpoint in Northland on November 16, 2019.

Ardern says police set up a checkpoint down the road from a fight night event in Ruakaka, which was run by a gang member and expected to have a significant number of patched gang members and associates in attendance.

The checkpoint resulted in vehicles being checked for road-worthiness and drivers breath-tested and being asked to produce their licence. Those suspected of attending the fight night or suspected of having gang associations were asked to pull over to the side of the road so police could record intelligence information about the occupants.

The IPCA has found that the initial checkpoint was lawful under the Land Transport Act, “particularly because it was considered the way they acted was a form of unlawful detention by pulling people over in the way that they did,” Ardern says.

Lessons taken

Ardern says the police have rightly acknowledged what they did was wrong and accepted the findings of the IPCA.

“My expectation is they learn from those things. We should absolutely expect that our institutions, our police, follow the law and do what is expected of them be it unlawful detention or 'things' around the Privacy Act in terms of photos. We need to have faith in the way that they’re operating so I expect their protocols to change as a result of those findings.”

Northland's district commander, Superintendent Tony Hill, says Police accept the IPCA’s findings, with an internal review of the operation determining that photographing these individuals did not comply with the powers available under the Privacy Act or Land Transport Act.

“We have reviewed this event and have identified a number of lessons. We have provided additional communication and advice to our staff to ensure they understand their obligations under these acts when carrying out checkpoint operations, he says.

“I would also like to acknowledge, however, that the intent of the staff was positive and their aim was to gather intelligence about members of organised crime groups. In future operations our staff will have clearer guidelines to ensure that all actions are lawfully executed under the Land Transport Act.”