‘They’re targeting poor communities’: Advocates hit out at Hipkins’ police photography stance

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Attorney Julia Whaipooti says it’s hard not to read Hipkins’ speech as an endorsement of racial profiling.
Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Māori justice advocates warn that any move to relax laws governing police photography will undo years of work to build trust in Māori.

The Police Minister has proposed changing the law to allow officers to continue taking photos of adults and children who look out of place or suspicious.

Police Secretary Chris Hipkins said the pendulum had swung too far in favor of privacy over the Secret Service.

The comments came after an investigation by the Independent Police Agency and the Data Protection Commission found officers had taken thousands of photos – often illegally – and improperly stored them.

In many cases they are not justified and the photos are unnecessary. A disproportionate number of them were Rangatahi Māori.

Tracy McIntosh, a professor of criminology at Auckland University, said the minister, who wants to legalize the practice, is worrying.

“You know, when people talk about trying to balance human rights with security, you don’t balance things. By their very nature, human rights should be irreversible and irrevocable,” she said.

“Going back to the times of young Māori men especially, but also young Māori women as a problem of being certainly brings me back to my youth.”

Attorney Julia Whaipooti said it was hard not to read Hipkins’ speech as an endorsement of racial profiling.

“They certainly aren’t taking pictures of Pākehā people walking around Ponsonby and Lambton Quay with Class A drugs in their bags, they are concentrating and targeting poor communities,” Whaipooti said.

“If you accept that, and then you advocate legalizing that practice, you’re advocating legalizing that practice that they know about.”

On day two of the Police Association conference on Thursday, President Chris Cahill reiterated his support for a change.

Labor MP Chris Hipkins

Police Secretary Chris Hipkins has come under fire from lawyers for comments on police photography practices.
Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

He said bad practices had definitely been highlighted by the investigation, but stopping it completely would seriously hamper intelligence gathering.

He was asked how officers define suspects: “It’s a problem, but sometimes you have to trust the police to get things right,” he replied.

“There’s no tidying up about keeping the photos after a lingering suspicion, things like that.

“And the difference between photographing youngsters who have actually been caught committing a crime and not being able to keep that and one that’s just kept for intelligence purposes is the right mix.”

He also said the country needs to address broader inequalities that resulted in high numbers of Māori in the justice system and police databases, and not just what frontline police are doing.

But Whaipooti said police decisions are often an entry point into the justice system.

The current government promised transformation with strategies like Hōkai Rangi in Corrections, but now seems to be giving in to political point-scoring, she said.

“Hōkai Rangi is a very good strategy, but in terms of practice and getting things through, it’s just yellow pages. So it’s words on paper without actions.

“I don’t care how many Māori they appoint to advisory groups or chocolate chip groups to advise on if their practice doesn’t change. And right now they are working to make legal racist laws.”

Whaipooti said any change in the law would nullify the government’s promises of transformation, and instead she should weigh how such a change would affect children and families and whether the state would condone their profiling.

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