An investigation into police conduct, sparked by reporting by RNZ, has concluded that the illegal photographing and filming of young people and adults by officers was widespread.
It follows a 2020 RNZ investigation that found Wairarapa police were illegally photographing young Māori in a series of incidents that appeared to be racial profiling.
Now, a joint report by the The Independent Police Conduct Authority and the Privacy Commission has determined that the issue was systemic and not just isolated to one region.
According to RNZ, people were photographed for reasons like looking “out of place” or “suspicious”. Thousands of photos of potentially innocent members of the public were taken, stored on officers phones and, despite requirements, not destroyed.
The investigation backed up concerns the police behaviour was racially motivated. Of the tens of thousands of photos held in just one police database, half are of Māori. “Rangatahi and their whānau… consistently raised concerns that their treatment was as the result of their race,” the report said.
The report also found a “widespread belief” that there was no difference between photographing adults or youths for intelligence-gathering or investigative purposes. Some officers said they “did not believe that youth are afforded any extra rights or protection in these circumstances”.
In a statement, police said it accepted the report’s findings but expressed some concern that the recommendations could make it harder for staff to carry out their duties successfully.
“Intelligence gathering, including the taking of photographs and voluntary fingerprints, enables Police to carry out its core functions as set out by the Policing Act 2008, particularly the prevention and investigation of crime,” said commissioner Andrew Coster.
“We accept that aspects of our intelligence gathering policy require refinement, particularly in relation to retention and disposal of information that is no longer needed for the purposes of investigation.”
Coster added: “We already have robust systems and processes in place around the retention of fingerprints.”