An independent review of the Police Vetting Service by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner (OPC) and the Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) has identified a number of key ways the Service can improve privacy safeguards for individuals and protect the public.
Police asked OPC and IPCA to review its vetting service and suggest ways it might improve its processes and decision making.
A ‘Police vet’ is a review of all information held by the Police relating to an applicant. The main purpose of Police vetting is to provide information to help agencies make informed decisions about potential employees, current employees or volunteers who work directly with vulnerable groups of people, including children, older people and people with special needs.
The Chair of the Authority, Judge Sir David Carruthers, and the Privacy Commissioner, John Edwards, recommended that the Government should consider developing a formal statutory framework for vetting.
"The vetting service deals with over 500,000 vetting applications each year, and the vast majority are processed quickly and without issues. We’ve made some recommendations to the Police to help them tighten their policies and procedures and ensure they align with international practice."
"However, the legal basis for a number of decisions taken by the Vetting Service is uncertain. This work is important in ensuring that those working with children and other vulnerable people do not pose a risk to them. It is a key part of the Government’s strategy under the Vulnerable Children Act. Legislation that provides clarity as to the legal basis for vetting as well as protections for vulnerable people is required."
The Review also notes the Police have already taken steps to address a number of the issues identified.
"Despite the positive changes that have already been made, we consider there is still a need to develop a more comprehensive and coherent set of guidelines and procedures to support consistent decision-making about what information to release as part of a vet."
The Review makes a number of recommendations addressing how Police should treat ‘intelligence’ that may not be able to be verified, information that may be subject to suppression orders, that has been received in confidence, or relates solely to matters of physical or mental health. In addition, there is a need for agencies using the vetting service to ensure the individuals concerned are fully aware of the potential scope of information that may be provided and how it might be used.
A copy of the report can be viewed here.
Media contact IPCA: General Manager, Warren Young: 021 557 783
Media contact OPC: Senior Communications Adviser, Charles Mabbett: 021 509 735
Background notes on Police vetting:
A ‘Police vet’ is a review of all information held by the Police relating to an applicant.
Only approved agencies, not individuals, can use the Police Vetting Service, although checks can only be carried out with the consent of the person being vetted.
Many laws require people to undergo a ‘fit and proper person’ check for professional registration or for vocational training or employment, or for visa application processes.
Police undertake vetting under its general community service and safety mandate, rather than as a core law enforcement activity.
Police are currently being asked to vet over half a million New Zealanders every year and requests are likely to become even more commonplace as requirements for safety checking under the Vulnerable Children Act come on line.
There is no clear statutory framework for the Police Vetting Service. The service has developed iteratively over time, largely driven by user demand.
Police vetting is broader than just criminal history information and can cover any information about any interactions an individual may have had with the Police whether or not that involved court action, or the person was the main focus of the Police’s attention or a third party (e.g. a witness or victim).
Police vetting may include non-conviction information including warrants for arrest or restraining orders in effect or investigations where no charges were laid, if that information is relevant to the role a person is being vetted for.