Police tighten rules on photographing youths
Police are being commended for tightening the rules for officers photographing young people, but there are concerns it could lead to the perverse outcome of more Māori being arrested.
The changes come after RNZ revealed in December 2020 that officers in Wairarapa were unlawfully photographing young Māori.
Police there admitted illegally taking pictures of young people on three occasions.
Whānau/family described their sons - some as young as 14 - walking alone in broad daylight, when police approached and insisted they take their picture.
The rangatahi/youths were not doing anything wrong, nor being arrested.
Further RNZ reporting by Te Aniwa Hurihanganui suggested the practice was far more widespread than just in Wairarapa.
Police subsequently launched a review, and as a result of that, officers will no longer take pictures or fingerprints of young people unless they have been arrested or are being summonsed.
They will delete all photos of young people already taken on police-issued phones.
From now, when a picture is taken, only official cameras or photographers should be used.
At a pinch, a mobile device can still be used by officers, but the photo must be deleted off the phone once it has been uploaded into the police's national intelligence database.
Barrister Marie Taylor-Cyphers says there's the risk it could lead to more Māori being arrested, rather than just being given a warning.
"If a police officer, in the course of their investigation, needs to for some reason identify the child by photographing them, then they're going to be incentivised to place that child under arrest more readily than previously."
Police deny there will be an increase in Māori arrests as a result, calling the changes a procedural issue.
Police community partnerships and prevention director Eric Tibbott told Morning Report the change would "definitely not" lead to more Māori youth being arrested.
"This is more about policy to reflect community expectations," he says.
Taylor-Cyphers says the way the policy is worded appears to give police permission to photograph young people in wider range of circumstances than adults.
Police say the law allows them to take pictures of people under custody.
But Taylor-Cyphers says the new rules also let police snap photos of young people under summons - which often happened for lower level offences like traffic or driving infringements - and the policy needs to be tightened up.
Dr Karaitiana Taiuru, who has completed a PhD on indigenous ethics in data collection, describes the changes by police as a "huge step forward", but also worries it could lead to more rangatahi facing charges.
Taiuru says we will have wait and see how the policy is implemented.
"In a year's time, it would be really interesting to see the statistics on ... how many Māori youth were arrested for low-level crimes rather than non-Māori youth.
"And then compare the amount of photos taken of Māori youth compared to non-Māori youth."
The full findings from the police's internal review are expected early this year, as is a joint Independent Police Conduct Authority and Privacy Commission inquiry.