Tuesday, October 03, 2023

The police know they suck at the OIA

In recent years I've done a long series of posts poking into police OIA data and how it hides how badly the police suck at carrying out their obligations under the Act. And in a response to a recent request, it seems the police have been doing the same. A routine followup on an Ombudsman's opinion resulted in them giving me a consultants report on NZ Police OIA compliance. The report largely confirms my analysis: most requests to police are standard and routine request types (or not OIAs at all), which are handled quickly at a district level - Traffic Crash Requests (which are not OIAs), insurance requests, and requests from lawyers, social workers, or Oranga Tamariki staff or others involved in the justice system. The problem is anything which isn't one of these requests - the sorts of requests journalists file, seeking policy background for example. These are handled by PNHQ, and the data on those is absolutely dismal. Here's a breakdown of timeliness by workgroup, and its appalling:


The average is less than 50%, and some groups are handling less than a quarter of requests on time (there is a caveat that the Police Information Request Tool does not necessarily handle extensions properly, but that's their data).

How are things this bad? The usual police problems: poor leadership, no ownership, poor training and institutional culture, and no proper performance reporting - meaning that Ombudsman's complaints and adverse media reports are their only feedback mechanism. They correctly pick up that the sign-out process is a common blockage and responsible for many delays (which they blame on "capacity of those doing the sign-outs, [and] relative priority of OIAs to other work") - but they completely miss the underlying driver of increased information control freakery from police command. So any good work done by people lower down the chain gets destroyed by those at the top wanting to cover their arse against the possibility of bad headlines.

There's a host of recommendations, and the questions now is whether the police listen, or just continue to suck. Given their past performance and institutional resistance to change, my money is on the latter.