He said the privacy pendulum had “swung too far” following the IPCA/OPC report into the long-established practice and it was possible that Parliament could consider amending legislation on the matter.
“I’m absolutely open to change,” he told delegates at the Police Association’s annual conference last month. “Intelligence gathering is a core function of police and some of the intelligence gathering that’s happened won’t be possible if we leave the Independent Police Conduct Authority, Privacy Commissioner finding unchallenged,” he said.
He understood the privacy concerns around the use of voluntary fingerprints, but when both parents and children consented to their use, he wondered, “what real harm is being caused by this?”
The report was already causing a “slowdown” in catching youth offenders as a spike in ram raids and smash-and-grab-style burglaries affected parts of the country.
Mr Hipkins agreed with association president Chris Cahill that the report was “unhelpful”, and he was waiting on advice from Police on what legislative changes might be needed.
Like police ministers before him, Mr Hipkins was reluctant to provide a “yes or no” answer on whether he supported the general arming of police. As an operational issue, it was a matter for the Police Commissioner, he said.
He cited overseas examples that show that general arming doesn’t necessarily improve officer safety and that there is a risk that an officer’s firearm can be used against them.
However, when pressed a second time on the question by delegates, he said he believed there was a time and a place for it.
“I think about police going into schools and working with kids. Should they be routinely carrying firearms when they're doing that? I don't think they should. When you're doing routine traffic stops? I acknowledge that that's a real dilemma.”
He supported Police looking into the use of non-lethal tactical options such as sponge rounds, which were used to dispel a mob at the Parliament protest in March.
Mr Hipkins added that officers could be proud of Police’s professionalism and restraint during the protest.
Mr Hipkins agreed with the association that other government departments needed to do their part to improve social cohesion. Police were often the “ambulance at the bottom of the cliff”, he said.
“It’s absolutely fair for police to be frustrated that they often find themselves dealing with society’s failures.”
As the minister for both Police and the public service, Mr Hipkins said he wanted to improve the coordination between government agencies to tackle issues such as youth crime.