Complaints Against Police in Victoria
When you make a complaint against police in Victoria, it is most likely that your complaint will be investigated or otherwise managed by police officers.
In the first instance if a complaint is made to the Police it will be sent to the Professional Standards Command. Depending on the complaint, it will then be investigated either by the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC) or internally by Victoria Police, usually by the Police Conduct Unit of the Professional Standards Command.
Some complaints may be considered to be a protected disclosure. If this is the case, the complaint will be referred to IBAC. People who make complaints which are protected disclosures are given some protections, including their identity being confidential under certain circumstances.
Alternatively, complaints against Victoria Police members can be made directly to IBAC.
Currently, IBAC only investigates 1% of complaints against police, with Victoria Police investigating the rest.
Human rights standards require that complaints against police are investigated by an agency that is independent of police. Flemington and Kensington CLC continues to advocate that complaints made against Victoria Police should not be investigated by Victoria Police.
While it is critical that complaints are investigated independently of police, under the current complaint system, there are a number of reasons why it might be better to make complaints directly to Police Standards Command.
1. Your complaint is likely to be sent there anyway;
2. Your complaint may be investigated more quickly if sent directly to Police Standards Command;
3. At this stage, you can seek under FOI the complaint investigation report and information about what happened to you, if your complaint has not been investigated or reviewed by IBAC;
4. You can ask IBAC to review the police decision.
On the other hand there are disadvantages to having a complaint initially investigated by police:
1. The complaint could trigger a “cover charge” (that is a charge laid by police to attempt to explain or excuse their conduct).
2. Questioning of police officers, witnesses and complainant can be biased and could undermine the evidence that could be gathered.
3. Key documents/CCTV may be overlooked/lost.
4. Decisions will be made from the perspective of police and police understanding of the “way things are done”. These decisions are more likely to tend to justify police conduct and overlook unlawfulness.
Nassir Bare v IBAC
In 2012, Nassir Bare brought a case against the Office of Police Integrity (whose powers have now been absorbed into IBAC) amongst others, seeking to challenge their handling of his complaint.
Specifically, he challenged the decision that the OPI would not investigate his complaint themselves, but instead referred it to Victoria Police.
In 2013 the Supreme Court of Victoria found that under Victorian law there is no implied right to have complaints of serious assault against Victoria Police officers investigated other than by Victoria Police. This is despite such a right being recognised international law and many other countries.
Mr Bare is appealing this decision, and the matter will be heard in the Victorian Court of Appeal in 2014.
On the best figures available, only between 5% and 6% of allegations of assault by serving police are found proved after investigation.
The figure tends to be higher for less serious forms of complaint, such as complaints of rudeness, verbal abuse and incivility, where about 10% of complaints are found proved.
Letter to the Premier of Victoria
On 10 August 2009, with the assistance of Shani Cassidy, Greg Taylor and Charandev Singh, the Flemington & Kensington Community Legal Centre wrote to the Premier of Victoria and the Minister for Police about the need for the independent investigation of police involved deaths and human rights abuses.
An Effective System for Investigating Complaints Against Police
This 2011 report by Flemington & Kensington CLC principal solicitor Tamar Hopkins looks at complaint systems in the US, UK, Northern Ireland and Canada. It also closely examines both the current Victorian complaint system, and the system as it has evolved over the past two decades. It contains links to documents and inquires from many jurisdictions.
To read more about human rights standards and the failure of the Victoria Police complaint system to meet these standards download this article.
Koori Complaints Project Final Report
The Department of Justice, Indigenous Justice Unit investigated complaints by Koori people in Victoria over a 13 year period.