27 April 2013

Public Transport Fishing Expeditions

Whatever were they thinking ... or not thinking?

Today's Age reports that
Concerns have been raised about [Victorian] Protective Service Officers collecting personal information from innocent bystanders, partly to show their superiors they have been working and, sometimes, to conduct on-the-spot criminal record checks. PSOs recorded the name and date of birth of more than 29,000 people last year, including those not suspected of any wrongdoing. The information may be used, at PSOs' discretion, to conduct criminal record checks by radio. ...
[O]ne PSO said another reason they wrote down people's details was to prove they had been working. The acting Victorian Privacy Commissioner, David Watts, was unaware of the practice and said he was "seeking comment and clarification from Victoria Police". ....
Victoria Police defended the practice as standard procedure used by both PSOs and police to gain information about an area. 
The Victoria Police, in recruiting people as Protective Service Officers, explains that
Your shift starts at your designated Police Station anywhere between 3pm and 7pm where you change into your uniform and equip yourself for duty. You and your team mates will receive a briefing from the supervising Sergeant outlining any safety concerns, events in the area and things to keep an eye out for. Transportation will be provided for you to your designated train station and your night will begin. You will always be on duty with at least one other PSO.
Throughout your shift, you will monitor peak hour train services where you will maintain a visible presence and engage with the community. You will build and maintain rapport with commuters and the surrounding community to build trust in the safety of the station. You will proactively patrol the train platform, car parks and surrounds, dealing with anti-social behaviour, property damage, alcohol and transport related offences as they arise. You will be provided with facilities to compile paperwork, which is minimal. You will also be provided with facilities to have a meal break along with other amenities as required.
You will be transported back to your designated Police Station to return your operational equipment along with any paperwork you may have completed during the shift. Shifts can vary from 8 to 10 hours and can start anytime from 3pm to 7pm. The Transit Safety division confirms your rosters 4 weeks in advance and takes into consideration your leave requirements.
Building rapport through fishing expeditions is problematical. In 2011 the Police Commissioner stated that "There are big differences in terms of what PSOs are able to do and what police do. PSOs won’t have all the powers police have but will be fully trained to be able to reduce crime, violence and anti-social behaviour in and around train stations."

The Age article goes on to explain that
 After beginning work in February 2012, PSOs were involved in the arrest of 1,397 people up to the end of 2012. More than 60 of those arrested were breaching bail conditions and 500 had outstanding warrants. A police spokeswoman confirmed one role of PSOs was to ''gather intelligence. PSOs can have between five and 50 contacts with commuters per shift (including those not behaving suspiciously) in the form of a greeting or a formal interaction where they obtain the person's name and date of birth.''
Under the Crimes Act people can refuse to give their name, address and date of birth, unless police have reasonable grounds for believing they have committed or are about to commit an offence, or could aid an investigation. The spokeswoman said when someone was not under suspicion ''a member of the public has the right to ask whether they are required to provide their details, which they would be advised that there is no obligation''. But police are not required to warn someone that they don't have to answer ....
On Tuesday morning Baljit Thind, 21, was outside the paid ticketing area on the ground level of Southern Cross Station. He was exploring the city, having arrived three weeks earlier from India to study in a language school, when he was approached by two PSOs. According to Mr Thind, one PSO said: ''Just show me your ID.'' ''I said, 'why'. He said, 'Just show me, we need your date of birth, name and address','' Mr Thind said. ''Because I was scared I gave him my Indian licence, and then he wrote my name and my date of birth in his diary. He told me, 'Where are you living in Australia?' and I told him my address.'' At no stage did the PSO tell Mr Thind that he was not obliged to reveal the information. ''I asked the police officer many times, 'Why do you need my ID?' because I didn't do anything wrong. He said to me, 'We just need it'.
Police did not disclose with whom the details were shared, but confirmed they were ''held by Victoria Police as law enforcement data''. The spokeswoman said the data was ''generally not'' cross-checked with CCTV footage ''unless the circumstances require an investigation''. 
No indication of how the data is processed, for how long it is retained and the framework for its disposal. (A comment on sharing of Myki data is here.)

Information collection by 'authorised officers' among public transport personnel  encompasses -
Powers of Authorised Officers
Authorised Officers have the authority to: see your ticket and concession identification where appropriate, even when you have left the vehicle or a paid area of a station
If an Authorised Officer believes an offence has occurred, they can:
ask for your name and address
ask to see evidence which confirms your identity
arrest you until your name and address is verified by evidence
arrest you until the police arrive if you refuse to comply
confiscate tickets for use as evidence if necessary.