Academic journal article New Zealand Sociology

Academic Freedom: The Threat Posed by Police

Academic journal article New Zealand Sociology

Academic Freedom: The Threat Posed by Police

Article excerpt

Background to the research

In May 2014, I gained a research agreement to undertake research on alcohol related issues commissioned by the Health Promotion Agency (HPA), a government funded body that seeks an evidence-based approach to health promotion. The HPA's work is divided into three main areas:

* promoting health and wellbeing

* enabling health promoting initiatives and environments

* informing health promoting policy and practice.

The primary research team consisted of Dr Greg Breetzke and Mr Benjamin Elley. Professor Greg Newbold and Associate Professor Chris Gallavin were also part of the team in a capacity of advising and peer review. I was leading the project.

The research proposed an analysis using geographic information systems to examine how the Canterbury Earthquakes had affected the trends, distribution, and occurrence of crime in the city of Christchurch and to identify relationships between crime and alcohol post-quake. Specifically, we sought to understand how crime varied temporally and spatially, and why these changes may have occurred.

This research required three data sets, one of which was held by the NZ police. We requested from them a dataset containing crime data for the Christchurch area and the following specific anonymised information:

* The date of the offence

* The hour in which it was recorded (e.g. 2200-2300) ? The offence category (e.g. Violence, or Dishonesty)

* The offence code

* The offence description (e.g. Wilful Damage, or Theft Ex Dwelling over $1000)

* Location of the offence (easting and northing).

We were instructed by the police to apply to the Research and Evaluation Steering Committee, which is standard policy for anyone wanting to do research involving the New Zealand Police.

According to police (Zealand Police, 2015) the purpose of the committee is to ensure Police-related research or evaluation will:

* have benefits for Police

* be of good standard

* meet our privacy obligations, and

* be feasible in relation to demands on Police time and resources.

Approval is subject to five conditions, two of which are relevant here:

1. A satisfactory security clearance.

2. Completion of a Deed of Confidentiality and Research Agreement.

While the application is to the Research and Evaluation Steering Committee, we dealt primarily with the Research and Evaluation Steering Committee Coordinator and the Police National Statistics Manager.

The Problems

The timeline

The initial application was submitted in September 2014 but the data that we requested from police was not delivered to us until July 2015, meaning that the process took a total of eleven months to complete. This was despite the fact the data could be extracted in a matter of minutes had the police been so inclined. This timeframe meant the project was significantly delayed.

This delay was due to the police review of our methodology and requests for greater detail. During this period, the research team had to resubmit the proposal three times. At one point we were asked how the research fits in with other work in the field and another to think more about our research questions. This was less a request for data as it was a broad critique. Some of the requests for further information related to interviews we planned to undertake that had absolutely no connection to the data requested from the police or to the police whatsoever.

We had no choice but to accept the revisions in order to expedite a dragging process. Any push-back was met with opposition. For example, during a telephone call with the Police National Statistics Manager I explained that we had a high calibre team capable of making methodological decisions, and that we were confident that our methodology was sufficient. The reply from the something like: "Frankly, I don't give a damn who you have on your team. Unless I'm satisfied, nothing happens" (personal communication, 2015). …

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