UPDATE: Overhaul of police complaints system overdue

 3 October 2017

 

Submissions to Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry call for an end to the decades long practice of police investigating police.

 

A Parliamentary Inquiry examining how police complaints about misconduct and corruption are handled in Victoria has received over 40 submissions.

88% of publicly available submissions call for the establishment of an independent body that would see expert investigators from outside the force examine police misconduct investigations.

Many submissions are critical of how the Independent Broad Based Anti Corruption Commission (IBAC) is working. Although technically empowered to investigate police misconduct and corruption, in practice, IBAC refers approximately 90% of complaints back to Victoria Police to self-investigate, with limited or no oversight.

“The public are calling for change because they have no trust in a system that allows police to investigate each other,” said Solicitor, Sophie Ellis, of the Police Accountability Project at the Flemington Kensington Community Legal Centre (FKCLC).

Ellis says: “the practice of internalising investigations of public complaints, which shields investigations and police misconduct from public scrutiny, should have ended decades ago.”

“It is extraordinary that in 2016, even extremely serious complaints, which raise criminal allegations like assault or human rights breaches, still remain in the hands of police. Victoria must move to independent investigations of police in line with other jurisdictions and United Nations guidelines, if we are serious about having a system that works and which shares the confidence of both police and the public.”

Recurring themes in the submissions made to the Inquiry include concern over the low substantiation rates of police misconduct allegations, and complaints being internally classified as less serious than they are: one example is assault complaints being classified as ‘customer service issues’.

A submission by Youth Law cites data from complaints made by Indigenous Victorians over a 15-year period: “The complaints were overwhelmingly classified as being in the lowest (least serious) category of complaint. This is despite almost 40% complaints being allegations of assault.”

The same Project found that “since 2004, no assault complaint made by a Koori person has been classified correctly.  Instead these complaints received a minor or management status.” IBAC’s 2015 Audit of Victoria Police Complaints Handling Systems at a Regional Level identified similar issues in 22% of audited files that were classified by Victoria Police as being suitable for “Local Management Resolution”.  In each case, the audit team’s concern was that more serious complaints were inappropriately classified as customer service type issues.

2016 data from the FKCLC police complaints clinic showed that less than 2% of allegations filed on behalf of members of the public by the clinic lawyer were substantiated.

Similarly, the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service submission states that none of the complaints made behalf of clients between 2009 and 2016 were substantiated in full.

Low substantiation rates, evidenced in the data of the FKCLC’s police complaints clinic, also demonstrate a recurring issue with the current system and helps explain why there is such low public confidence in police investigating themselves.

The Parliamentary IBAC Committee’s Inquiry into the External Oversight and Investigation of Police Corruption and Misconduct in Victoria will report on or before 30 June 2018.  It is yet to hold public hearings.

 

#VicPolWatch to track these conversations on Twitter

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Media and Resources

Victorian police shouldn’t investigate themselves say lawyers, Rebecca David, Herald Sun – Leader,

“The inquiry has received more than 40 responses, and almost 90 per cent of publicly available submissions — including those from Victorian Legal Aid, Youthlaw and various community legal services — said the present system wasn’t good enough…

 

The Trouble with IBAC, Merys Williams Law Institute Journal, 02 October 2017

 “The Victorian parliament’s IBAC Committee report into external oversight of police corruption and misconduct is due by 30 June 2018. This is a crucial opportunity for advocates to convince parliament that Victoria needs a police complaints system that meets human rights standards…

 

For more information about Independent Investigations of police complaints in Victoria see: Independent Investigations

 

 

NEW Policy Briefing Paper 2017

Policy Briefing Paper 2017 covershot

 

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