Written By: - Date published: 8:52 am, September 11th, 2016 - 36 comments
Categories: Abuse of power, Deep stuff, john key, Judith Collins, Media, national, slippery, spin, the praiseworthy and the pitiful, you couldn't make this shit up - Tags: colin peacock, eugene bingham, mediawatch
Some recent media comment on crime statistics has passed unnoticed which is a shame. They deserve greater publicity because they suggest that there is something deeply wrong with the reporting of crime in New Zealand.
Two years ago Eugene Bingham broke a story about how Papakura Police were doctoring crime statistics by reclassifying burglaries as lesser offences. The process appeared to be deliberate and up to 30% of offences originally coded as burglaries were recoded.
The story was revisited after the recent Government announcement that all houses that had been burgled would be visited by a police officer. There was also an open letter sent by John Key to Chinese citizens saying that burglary would be targeted as a priority. The letter and the announcement occurred just before the release of crime statistics suggesting that burglary rates had surged and the clearance rate was pitifully low.
How the police is going to achieve this is unknown. No extra resources are promised.
The announcement also occurred at the same time that Eugene Bingham reported in the Sunday Star Times how his attempts to find out more following his earlier article has been thwarted by years of obfuscation. And it appears that senior officers had ordered police staff not to reply to his valid OIA requests.
From his article:
There has been no independent investigation of either the deliberate police meddling with crime statistics, or the subsequent cover-up.
Certain stories are doomed to haunt you, stories that linger and you never really know if you’ve got to the bottom of them.
Ghost crimes was one of those – and no, that’s not because of the name it became known as.
It’s the story of how a small group of police in Counties Manukau made hundreds of burglaries “disappear” from the official police statistics, a story about allegations of a cover-up at the highest level.
Among its characters were Police Commissioner Mike Bush, Police Minister Judith Collins, five officers including area commander Inspector Gary Hill who were disciplined over it, a senior-ranking officer who put his neck on the line, and an anonymous letter writer who wreaked havoc with their determined efforts to blow the whistle.
The story broke two years ago and became a fleeting political scandal. In reality, its roots traced back five years earlier, and it has smouldered away in the background until now.
A letter from the police apologised for aspects of the case, and promised more transparency and accountability in future.
“While expressions of regret such as this cannot turn back the clock, my sincere hope is that the attached material and the police apology help draw a line under past difficulties,” wrote Mike Webb, national manager of the police’s assurance group.
Media watch also reviewed Bingham’s story.
In terms of the importance of professional journalism it quoted David Simon, who was responsible for the creation of the cult police series the Wire. In response to a suggestion that bloggers would take up the slack caused by the retreat of professional journalism he famously said that “The day I run into a Huffington Post reporter at a Baltimore zoning board hearing is the day I will no longer be worried about journalism.”
In a fuller statement Simon said this about the power of blogs and why they are not a substitute for professional press:
But democratized and independent though they may be, you do not — in my city — run into bloggers or so-called citizen journalists at City Hall, or in the courthouse hallways or at the bars and union halls where police officers gather. You do not see them consistently nurturing and then pressing sources. You do not see them holding institutions accountable on a daily basis.
Why? Because high-end journalism – that which acquires essential information about our government and society in the first place — is a profession; it requires daily, full-time commitment by trained men and women who return to the same beats day in and day out until the best of them know everything with which a given institution is contending. For a relatively brief period in American history – no more than the last fifty years or so – a lot of smart and talented people were paid a living wage and benefits to challenge the unrestrained authority of our institutions and to hold those institutions to task. Modern newspaper reporting was the hardest and in some ways most gratifying job I ever had. I am offended to think that anyone, anywhere believes American institutions as insulated, self-preserving and self-justifying as police departments, school systems, legislatures and chief executives can be held to gathered facts by amateurs pursuing the task without compensation, training, or for that matter, sufficient standing to make public officials even care to whom it is they are lying or from whom they are withholding information.
The comment is as valid for New Zealand as it is for America.
Colin Peacock’s article in Mediawatch contains a very sobering conclusion:
There has been no independent investigation of either the police meddling with the crime statistics, or the alleged cover-up of it, he said. The “ghost crimes” story has fizzled out with unanswered questions, and he said it calls into question journalists’ ability to get the truth on important matters raised by whistle-blowers.
“My OIA request isn’t the only one that dates back that far, and it’s not just the police,” Eugene Bingham told Mediawatch.
He’s far from the first journalist to complain about this. Last year, Nicky Hager said the Act is fine for obtaining basic information, but “basically useless” for getting hold of important material.
“In practice, I’m sick of it. If someone in power wants to evade it, it’s frustratingly easy”, he told RNZ.
Two years later and the story has through the passage of time effectively died. National’s political advantage gained on the basis of a lie has not been punished. And an important story has been stifled by the authorities even though the OIA says that responses should be made within 20 working days.
As Bingham says there should be a culture of transparency and openness. Even if our political masters are embarrassed by the results.