Tuesday, June 28, 2022

The police still suck at the OIA

Last year, sparked by the contrast between the official OIA statistics police reported to PSC, and their actual performance experienced and seen over FYI, I asked some questions about their numbers - and discovered that their official statistics were a lie. Once you remove the routine traffic crash reports and speed camera requests, which the police do not treat or track as OIAs (except for the purposes of reporting a big number to TKM-PSC) then their performance was dismal: 42.5% on time rather than the reported 95.3%.

I thought I'd do a followup on this, so I asked for calendar-year 2021 statistics to extend the existing dataset. The response shows that while their performance has improved, it is still unacceptably low, with only 76.8% of OIA requests processed by PNHQ completed on time (this compares to 42.5% in 2020 and 35.8% in 2019).

I also did a followup on a previous request (which I don't think I'd published) about the proportion of requests marked as "high organizational impact" (HOI). Requests marked in this way require extra scrutiny from legal and media teams, signoff by the police executive, and are notified to the Minister. The earlier results showed that the number of HOI requests was small but growing, making up 1.1% of requests in 2019 and 10.2% in 2020. This year, that number has exploded, with 32% of requests to PNHQ marked this way. And the resulting extra scrutiny has an effect on timeliness, with HOI requests being more likely to be late (63.8% on time vs 83% for non-HOI requests). This appalling performance is actually an improvement on last year (when only 30% of HOI requests were on-time), but HOI requests are still responsible for just over half of all late requests (231 late of 450 total).

In a normal organisation, the Ombudsman would be taking a pretty close look at why so many requests were being tagged in this way, and why it led to so many delays. But the Ombudsman cannot scrutinise police outside the context of a specific OIA complaint, so while they can notice individual problems (like this one, they can't do the usual practice investigation and examine the system as a whole. While it is within the functions of the IPCA, they are neither funded for or interested in general practice investigations. The Ombudsman pointed out that this was a problem in their submission on the OIA consultation back in 2019. The government has done nothing to fix it over the last three years. As a result, our most-request agency remains functionally immune from proper oversight, and continues to laugh at the law. The consequences of those arrangements can be seen in the statistics above.