The report of the Commission of Inquiry into Police Conduct, released last week, highlights concerns about Police use of the internet and email.
The report, by Dame Margaret Bazley, gives Police technology a tick, but highlights the policies and procedures around the technology which, it says, need beefing-up. It also takes issue with the Police Association’s position on email and internet usage policies.
Bazley investigated Police email systems and the technology used to monitor and block objectionable material and found it was “generally consistent with industry best practice”. However, she found, the effectiveness of the technical solution “depends not only on its initial design and implementation, but also on its ongoing monitoring and management.”
For instance, reports on internet usage inside Police were not made regularly, but rather were produced in response to specific requests. This is one area identified as needing improvement. This should be done through regular reporting and by targeting staff with the highest internet usage.
Such reports, says Bazley, could provide an early warning system for Police and help prevent more a serious situation developing. She also advocates a centralised database for collecting Police performance information.
“To be effective, I believe that an early warning system should be centrally organised and implemented on a consistent basis across the country. It must capture all the information currently held in the separate databases for performance appraisal, health and safety, professional standards (including complaints) and sexual harassment.
“It should also cover other information that may indicate a problem with an officer, for example, improper use of the internet for private purposes while at work.”
The report also takes issue with the Police Association’s view that while computer-use policies should be clear they cannot be rigidly applied.
The report says the Police Association opposes a “one size fits all” approach, arguing that individual circumstances should be considered.“Although I accept that police management should give consideration to all the relevant circumstances when it comes to taking some sort of disciplinary action, this should not preclude taking a very definite line on what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable use of email and the internet,” she says.
The language of the existing policy provides too much scope for “individual interpretation” of what is acceptable, the report says.
“New Zealand Police should ask all police staff to sign an acknowledgment that they have read and agreed to an ‘acceptable use policy’ for internet and email, as well as acknowledging that they have read and understood any changes to police computer-use policies,” Bazley says.
She also asks that such policies be covered during induction and during ongoing training.
In April 2005, a scan of internal Police emails uncovered a number of inappropriate images sent, on several occasions, by 351 staff. Twelve of the images, held by 28 people, were classified as legally “objectionable” by the Chief Censor.
Police conducted an internal inquiry into the matter and the Bazley inquiry was kept informed of how this developed.
“The government requested that Police Commissioner Robinson keep me informed of the action he was taking, and [that he] proposed to take, in connection with his review of police culture, so that I might take this into account in shaping my recommendations,” Bazley’s report says.
Following a recommendation by the Crown Law Office, this earlier online abuse was dealt with by internal disciplinary procedures and no criminal prosecutions were brought.
Jim Shaw of Optimation assisted Bazley’s technical investigation.