Sally Murrer and police surveys

There’s been discussion in the UK by Roy Greenslade recently about the relationship between the police and the media following journalist Sally Murrer’s experiences. 

Ms Murrer is a journalist working for the Milton Keynes Citizen, who included amongst her contacts an ex-partner and police officer, Mark Kearney.  She would take tips from Mr Kearney occasionally, as journalists do.

This resulted in his superiors bugging their conversations, before Ms Murrer was arrested by eight plain-clothes police, driven far from her home, locked up, interrogated, strip-searched and charged with three counts of the archaic offence of aiding and abetting misconduct in a public office.  Her house and newspaper office was searched. 

She didn’t end up going to court, because the bugging tapes were inadmissible.  A judge ruled there was nothing in the information that touched on national security or serious crime, so the intrusive investigation by the police was wholly unjustified.

Ms Murrer says her experience as been hailed as a victory of freedom of the press – but has left her feeling numb, angry, and unwilling to write a police story again. 

Roy Greenslade says:

Despite appointing public relations officers, who did not exist in my long-ago reporting days, the amount of information given to local reporters has diminished down the years. Whether they are misquoting the Data Protection Act or simply being bloody-minded, police are giving out less and less information that should be in the public domain.

Freelance journo Jon Slattery working in London agrees:

At Press Gazette we had lots of complaints that PROs were withholding information that used to be routinely given to journalists by police officers. There were many examples where the data protection and human rights acts were wrongly given as reasons not to give out information.

I blogged a while back about NZ Police releasing survey results saying public satisfaction with them was at 80%.  I said at the time:

I welcome the Police surveying the public about their performance – but the public information about this survey so far leaves us not much wiser.  Watch this space, I’m going to try to find out the answers to some of these questions.

Well, tried that.  I sent these questions to Police national headquarters after a couple of phone conversations:

  1. How were the first 8300 respondents selected – from electoral roll?  Were any attempts made to ensure those selected were representative of New Zealand’s demographics in terms of ethnicity, age and gender?
  2. Of those who had had contact with the Police, what was the breakdown of how they had had contact with the Police – ie how many were offenders, how many were victims, how many were witnesses?
  3. What crimes were covered in the people surveyed?  Can you list them?
  4. Are you able to draw any conclusions about whether victims of some crimes say, are likely to be more satisfied with Police response than others?
  5. Of those who had contact with the Police, what was the demographic breakdown in terms of ethnicity – percentages from particular ethnic groups?
  6. Are you able to draw any conclusions about whether some ethnicities are likely to be more satisfied with Police than others?
  7. How did satisfaction levels of Maori compare with non-Maori?

After some time, I received a very pleasant response from the Police.  It said the survey results were in raw data form only, and no survey report had been written, so they could not answer my questions at the moment.  They have promised to get back to me when the report is completed.  That was nearly two months ago.

Back to Roy Greenslade.  He says:

The police, as has always been the case, must be answerable for the enormous powers that they wield. Although the media has no official role in policing the police, newspapers and broadcasters do an incomparable job within a democracy by casting light on their transgressions.

I have no doubt there are no “transgressions” to report on with the Police satisfaction survey.  But the survey could be, should be, part of holding the Police accountable for the enormous powers they wield.  Which means having real information about it is crucial.

Watch this space.

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