Source: New Zealand Police (District News)
Police acknowledge the findings of a report by the Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) following a complaint by the owners of a motel business in Warkworth over the release of personal information in 2017.
The property had previously been identified by Police in Warkworth as a location of interest for criminal activity.
On December 6th, 2016, Police officers stopped and searched a vehicle seen leaving the motel and seized Cannabis. The occupants told Police they had purchased drugs from someone at the motel.
Police searched parts of the motel and located quantities of Methamphetamine and Cannabis.
One of the motel business owners and a second person were arrested and the motel business owner pleaded guilty to drug-related charges.
The IPCA found that while a search of one of the units where the two people resided was lawful, the search of a second unit and a further area in the motel were unlawful.
Following the search, an officer sent photos taken during the search to the landlord of the property showing general untidiness at the motel premise. After receiving a request for information from the landlord, the officer disclosed basic information around the motel business owner’s court details, along with information relating to criminal history of a long term resident at the motel.
The IPCA finds the disclosure of information to the landlord on the charges faced by the accused was justified, however it has ruled the sending of photographs and the disclosure about the criminal history of the resident at the motel was unjustified.
Police accept the officer’s actions in sending the photos to the landlord was ill-advised and regrettable, however we maintain the landlord had a legitimate interest in knowing about drug-related offending relating to the premise owned by him, especially in light of risks to the premises from Methamphetamine contamination.
Police accept that the officer made an error when incorrectly advising the landlord that the lodge was being used as emergency accommodation for parolees released by the Department of Corrections.
The IPCA also found the officer should have sought advice or forwarded the request for information to the OIA claim team, although Police note there is no internal policy that prevents an individual employee from responding to an official request for information.
Police disputed the IPCA’s finding that the officer lied to Police officers who were investigating the matter after a complaint was received relating to the release of information.
The officer was phoned by a Police officer while at home on leave nine months after the correspondence had taken place, and could not immediately recall the interactions with the landlord.
When asked again a further five months later, the officer maintained they could not recall any interactions with the landlord, however when the officer searched their emails at work, they located three email interactions with the landlord and immediately forwarded these to their supervisor.
Police do not believe the officer intentionally misled staff investigating the matter and accept the officer had forgotten about the correspondence given the length of time that had passed since their involvement.
Superintendent Naila Hassan, Waitemata District Commander, says the officer involved was acting with good intent and trying to do the right thing regarding criminal activity at the premise.
“As the IPCA notes, Police were justified in addressing a known issue with criminal activity at that location.
“While some of the information released to the landlord was ill-advised, the officer believed they were acting in the best interests of the Warkworth community.
“Police considered this matter as an employment investigation into the officer concerned. The investigation identified lessons to be learned and the officer was spoken to about their decision making in regards to the release of information.
“Police take privacy matters seriously and we have processes in place regarding the handling of official information requests. When mistakes are made, we make sure we learn from them to ensure they are not repeated,” says Superintendent Hassan.
Police has a range of guidance and resources available online regarding its obligations under the Privacy Act (1993) to assist our staff when it comes to the release of information.
Mandatory training will soon be delivered to all Police staff so they are aware of new reporting obligations under the revised Privacy Act (2020), which comes into effect on 1st December, 2020.
Nick Baker/NZ Police