Friday, June 11, 2021

There was never an "emissions-free fleet" strategy

Last month, I did a post about my efforts to excavate the Police's "emissions-free fleet" strategy, and how my OIA request had been extended "for consultations", whizzed past its extended deadline, then refused as it would "soon be publicly available". My complaint to the Ombudsman gained an attempted explanation from police, which boiled down to "it is still under development and no we're not going to give it to you".

The Ombudsman has now sent me their final opinion, which is one of the most damning I've seen. In addition to finding the police's actions to be unlawful, they also find that there was never an "emissions-free fleet" strategy, and that the police adopted a strategy of deceit in an effort to hide that fact:

Police explained that, at the time of [the] request, it did not actually have what one would consider a ‘plan’ for an emissions-free fleet. It did have a goal or aspiration for such a fleet, but not much more than this. Work towards this plan was at a very early stage and the only relevant document was a 13-page power-point presentation.

Police realised the disparity between its public statement and the internal organisational reality soon into the 20 working day period. Police initially thought it might be able to develop the aspiration into a plan relatively quickly. This was the reason for the extension, as well as the section 18(d) refusal.


In this case, it does not appear that consultations were necessary to make a decision on the request. Police realised early on that there was no 10-year plan. As soon as this occurred, Police was in a position to make a decision on the request. Section 18(e) has obvious applicability. Police have explained that the consultations in this case were essentially for the purpose of creating information to match Police’s public statements; not for the purpose of making a decision on the request.


To justify an 18(d) refusal, the agency must be reasonably certain that the requested information will be published in the near future. This is plainly not the case here. Police knew that requested information did not exist at the time of request. Essentially, it appears to me that Police used section 18(d), as well as the 22 January extension, to buy more time to try and get its internal organisational reality to match its public statement.

[Emphasis added, and I've redacted my name because I'm a very private person. As for that 13-page power-point presentation? It's laughable, the sort of thing a marketing department puts together. it has inconsistent numbers and no effort even to cost them, let alone any further analysis. Its not a "plan" so much as putting "have a plan" on your wall-planner.]

So, essentially the Commissioner lied to the public, then police staff lied to me repeatedly in an effort to hide that lie. The Ombudsman is sadly too polite to say this explicitly, or to say that it is unacceptable. And he needed to, lest people get the idea it is remotely acceptable. Because pretty obviously, the whole OIA system breaks down if agencies lie like this.

But do the police accept they were lying? Hell, no! After the Ombudsman had released a provisional opinion, they sent me a pissy little letter (with a copy of that laughable powerpoint presentation), saying:

Police accept the substantive findings of the Ombudsman in this case; however Police believes it is not a fair representation to find Police did not have a plan at the time of the request, as there was both a clear intent and a draft plan underdevelopment.
In which case, why didn't they just give me what they had at the time? Because it would have exposed the yawning gap between what the Commissioner had told the public, and how little they were doing. Their May 3 letter said that release "could impact... the public's trust and confidence in Police" - and they're right, because that powerpoint makes them look like muppets. But I suggest that their decision to lie and obfuscate has a far greater impact, and not just on trust in confidence in their OIA handling, but in other areas as well. After all, if they're willing to lie and obfuscate and make up the law as they go along in this area to avoid mere embarrassment, it really makes you wonder what else they're willing to do in e.g. criminal matters where the stakes are that much higher.

Finally, the lesson in all of this: always complain. If an agency extends "for consultations", ask who they are consulting and why it could not be completed during the legislated timeframe. If they refuse because material will "soon be publicly available", ask them when and where. And if their answers to either are not completely satisfactory (or they just ghost you, as agencies are often want to do), go straight to the Ombudsman. The OIA system depends on your complaints to discipline agencies and ensure they behave lawfully. So play your part, and complain.