Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Kids With Fake IDs Commit Fraud But Officers With False Badge Numbers OK?

On 10 March 2013 I was disturbed to see on a Fairfax site a story that police officers when arresting people during a protest wore false badge numbers:

"Police officers who deliberately faked their uniform badge numbers to avoid being identified as they weighed into a violent public protest will keep their jobs and won't be investigated by the force's watchdog.
Two of the officers were found guilty of breaching their own code of conduct and a third was said to have a "performance issue" after they were caught using matching identification badges at an Occupy Auckland eviction in January 2012.
Despite the pre-meditation involved, the Independent Police Conduct Authority decided the three officers' behaviour was not serious enough to warrant its attention, saying investigators were too busy dealing with cases involving death and bodily harm."
Police officers as a matter of law are required to wear their identifying numbers,. These numbers enable people who wish to complain about individual officers breaching the law, using excessive force etc. In other words these numbers serve as a tool to protect citizens and to enable investigating bodies to undertake meaningful investigations into the actions of individual officers."
If an officer beats a citizen while wearing a false id they could never be held accountable, as they can't be identified. In other words a meaningful check on the exercise of an officer's coercive power would be removed. The ability for the State to monitor the actions of those who enforce its law would be blocked or frustrated.
This is actually very serious. The Crimes Act 1961 gives but one example of an offence that these officers could have committed by wearing false badges:
116Conspiring to defeat justice
  • Every one is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 7 years who conspires to obstruct, prevent, pervert, or defeat the course of justice in New Zealand or the course of justice in an overseas jurisdiction.

I thought of this when reading an article from the Hutt News today:

False IDs have cost for young

Hutt cops confiscating four fakes per week

A Lower Hutt policeman frustrated at increasing numbers of young people using false identification says many don't realise they could end up with a criminal record.
Hutt Valley Sergeant Shane Benge says as many as four false ID cards are handed to him a week from Hutt Valley bars. He says that's just the tip of the iceberg.
Bar staff often don't hold on to false IDs, while many Hutt Valley teens head to Wellington for a night on the town.
However the numbers of people presenting false ID at Hutt Valley bars seems to be growing this summer, he says.
Mr Benge says he is not sure whether this is because of better door checks at bars or more young people trying it on.
In most cases, those using false ID at bars are 17 year olds whose friends are legally able to drink, and they don't want to miss out.
"It's actually quite a serious fraud offence - it's using a document dishonestly.

This whole story reeks of a double standard. So in other words, it is fraud for a young person to use a false id to get into a pub, but when police officers arguably commit fraud and or breach the Crimes Act by using false IDs, it is something that the IPCA thinks is not serious, and will result in no prosecutions. Integral to any notion of the Rule of Law is surely the notion of equality of all before the law - "Be you never so high, the law is above you," should be as true today as when Dr Thomas Fuller wrote it in 1733.

International watchdog Transparency International recently released a study showing that New Zealand views itself as one of the least corrupt countries in the world. Perhaps that is so if you never have any mechanisms to ensure transparency, or the watchdogs that are meant to watch out for corruption fail to exercise their role with sufficient rigour.  

1 comment:

  1. Michael

    Lawyers such as yourself have been bleating about the PCA and now IPCA for decades. Yet whilst those complaints are no doubt all valid, it seems that not one of your number has had the courage of your convictions and challenged the IPCA.

    Historically the IPCA and its predecessor have consistently demonstrated a bias toward police. Whilst the show is supposed to be run by a judge, undoubtedly the real ringmaster is former policeman Alan Galbraith.

    As a serving police officer Galbraith was involved in the investigations of investigations against police and despite overwhelming evidence against his colleagues, always managed to whitewash those complaints. It is reasonable to conclude that in his role with the IPCA Galbraith brings the same mindset to the table. One wonders how many decisions he sanitizes as the pass across his desk.

    So instead of bleating about how useless the IPCA is why not demonstrate your social conscience and take the IPCA to judicial review. It has never been done in NZ and perhaps this is why they remain so blatantly pro police. However it has successfully been achieved in Australia.

    Come on Michael, show us what you are made of!