Why police should not be investigating police

Stop PoliceIt is well and truly time that NSW had an independent police oversight body. The current system sees 99% of police complaints, and all critical incident reviews, undertaken by police. The various police oversight bodies are a tangled jurisdictional mess.

Currently the Ombudsman, Coroner’s Court, Police Integrity Commission and Police Internal Affairs all exercise overlapping powers, with each agency largely dependent on the initial evidence and investigation undertaken by police.

The Ombudsman undertakes paper reviews of complaints already dealt with by police, the Police Integrity Commission fully investigates only a handful of complaints a year (normally well after the initial Police Internal Affairs investigation has been completed) and the Coroner’s Court is dependent on the police brief of evidence provided to counsel assisting.

The end result is confusion, delay and the absence of accountability. This delay not only frustrates the public but it also sees police officers’ careers on hold for months, or in some cases years, while they wait for one agency after another to complete its investigation. Everyone in the system deserves better.

In the last few months we have seen two cases where the problem has been highlighted. The first is the Sydney siege where a police critical incidents review team is being forced to investigate and pass judgement on the decisions of senior police regarding the allocation of resources, the level of co-operation with Commonwealth agencies and the decision to delay police intervention. If a relatively junior officer was to make critical findings of his or her police superiors when undertaking the review those findings would be, to say the least, “career limiting”. There is no independence in such a system.

The very recent incident on 9 February 2015 where an apparently mentally ill woman brandishing a knife was shot dead by police raises similar difficult questions. The case has striking similarities to the cases of Adam Salter and Roni Levi. While the public would expect the investigation into this incident to be independent of police, once again the death will be investigated by an internal police critical incident review team.

Police critical incident reviews of the deaths of Roberto Curti and Adam Salter were the subject of significant criticism. In each case the overlapping inquiries also produced confusion and delay. Despite the criticism, history keeps repeating and the same mistakes keep being made. What will it take for the NSW Parliament to create a single independent police complaints body to ensure that complaints are investigated independently, fairly and promptly?

You can listen to David speaking to Radio National about police oversight, particularly in the context of the Parliamentary Inquiry into the police bugging scandal.

What is the current system for police complaints in NSW?

  • In NSW there is no single independent oversight body that holds police to account
  • At any given time there can be five separate oversight bodies to handle complaints and reviews: the NSW Police, NSW Ombudsman, Police Integrity Commission, State Coroner & WorkCover
  • Taken together this ‘system’ has proven to be an opaque, lengthy and expensive mess
  • Police investigating police creates a fundamental conflict of interest between officers’ real and perceived obligations to their fellow police and their duty to the public

What does an effective police oversight body look like?

  • Many people point to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) for England and Wales as a best practice police complaints and corruption body
  • It has the resources and funding to ensure its own investigators are on the scene of a critical incident in the first “golden hour” after an incident occurs
  • The IPCC functions as an entirely independent body—independent of police, government and complainant
  • It aims to improve public confidence in police complaints, and thereby improve general confidence in the police

The government would do well to review the successful experience in the England and Wales, and commit to putting an end to the practice of police investigating police in NSW.

For more information you can read the Greens submission to to the Review into Police Oversight of Critical Incidents.

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3 Responses to Why police should not be investigating police

  1. Terry February 12, 2015 at 7:41 pm #

    The long standing issues over T.J. Hickey are terrible enough without any other examples……..

  2. Jane Sanders February 12, 2015 at 9:26 pm #

    The case of Elijah Holcombe in June 2009 in Cinders Lane, Armidale is another case where an independent investigation was strongly needed. This case took 5 years to conclude the inquest began in Oct 2010 after 3 weeks was suspended and was sent to the DPP where it sat for another 15 months then when the inquest was set to continue the officer refused to give evidence, finally in March 2014 he was forced to give evidence but by this time he had developed mental health problems and had a complete memory blank of the actual shooting. He was never held accountable for his actions or even disaplined and alot of the evidence never heard in a courtroom. We urgently need an independent body so as to give these victims of police killings a fair and transparent investigation and hearing if there was no wrong doing then they will have nothing to fear.

  3. Adele Carrall-Browne February 13, 2015 at 6:42 pm #

    Bulahdelah – where Aboriginal people and others were striving by entirely lawful and peaceable means to have the (then) Roads & Traffic Authority’s intended Pacific Highway ‘upgrade’ route, Option E, which was to be blasted through heritage and culture of world significance diverted to Option A, which was less destructive, $millions cheaper and safer for road users and the community.

    Outline (does not include all incidents):-

    • Attempted murders and bashings at the Bulahdelah Aboriginal Tent Embassy on 28th March, 2009, police (one of whom is related to at least one of the assailants) ‘siding with’ the attempted murderers and other thugs;
    • elderly Aboriginal custodian, Worimi (Dates) having to have heart surgery, a *second* heart bypass, as a result of the heart attack caused by the thugs, two of whom physically assaulted him;
    • a local tradesperson assaulting a young lady camping at the tent embassy (1st August, 2009);
    • the same tradesperson going to the home of people who were supportive of the protection of Aboriginal (and other) heritage, and bellowing abuse and making threats at their front doorway;
    • the supportive people and their property (fence) being attacked on 20th September, 2009 – additional facts: https://bulahdelahbypass.wordpress.com/p1-podcasts-of-interviews/ (the same supporters also had their property attacked on the night of and prior to the attempted murders);
    • one of the supporters, a then 62 year old female, taken to hospital by ambulance;
    • all of this and other assaults reported to police; and
    the criminals, including the police who ‘sided with’ the attempted murderers and other thugs, are still at large.

    Particulars (please note that not all incidents are included in the following):-

    On the night of 26th March, 2009, Worimi was camping alone at the Bulahdelah Aboriginal Tent Embassy in the Alum Mountain Park (a dedicated Public Reserve area). Two young hooligans went to said embassy where they proceeded to taunt and threaten Worimi. The police were telephoned – twice. The police officer on duty attended the incident most reluctantly – initially refusing to do so and only going there after being told that more louts had been seen walking towards the park.

    The following night, 27th March, Bulahdelah residents who had long opposed the unwarranted destruction which would be wreaked by the Option E route, including its destruction of Aboriginal sites (one being the mountain itself) were woken by shouting and the sound of their fence being bashed at and rocks thrown on their roof. The police were telephoned. Two police officers, one of whom had also been ‘on duty’ the previous night, belatedly attended – went to the house where the perpetrators were located – and, instead of pressing charges, ‘shooed’ the louts inside.

    Later that night, in the dark early-morning hours of 28th March, 2009, two loads of hooligans were delivered to the hooligans’ house in a van which was owned or leased by the local hotel. About half went to the Alum Mountain Park where they entered the Bulahdelah Aboriginal Tent Embassy and several of their members violently assaulted and seriously injured Worimi and others. (Worimi later had to have a heart bypass operation – his second.) The two police officers who belatedly attended the scene (the same two as were on duty earlier) not only failed to charge any of the criminals involved – they blatantly ‘sided with’ them.

    On 7th June, 2009, three hooligans, all of whom were well known to the police, and one of whom had taunted and threatened Worimi on 26th March and was a resident of the house from which the 27th March rock-throwing etc. incident was perpetrated and to which the two van-loads of hooligans were delivered, drove past the Bulahdelah Aboriginal Tent Embassy verbally assaulting and threatening Worimi. The police, having ‘sided with’ and failed to charge the criminals who had attempted to murder Worimi and had violently assaulted others on 28th March, charged Worimi for the 7th June incident. The charges against Worimi were withdrawn on 4th April, 2013, eight days after the opening of the southbound lanes of the Option E roadway.