The Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service (VALS), the Police Accountability Project and other community legal centres and Aboriginal organisations have called on Premier Daniel Andrews to overhaul the state’s failed police oversight system with the introduction of a Police Ombudsman.
VALS and the Police Accountability Project are part of a coalition of lawyers, non-profit organisations and legal centres, who represent and work with people who have been subject to police harm in Victoria.
The coalition has sent an urgent open letter to Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews that outlines deficiencies with the handling of police complaints and calls for action.
“Police investigating police simply doesn’t work for Aboriginal people. When Victoria Police investigate complaints from Aboriginal people, IBAC found that more than half the time they ignore relevant evidence” said Nerita Waight, CEO of VALS.
“Aboriginal people are more likely to suffer police misconduct, but less likely to make a complaint – our community knows that the system doesn’t take their complaints seriously.”
“When Aboriginal people suffer police misconduct, with no accountability, the trauma of that experience can disrupt their lives and leave them needing other support. That’s why six Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations have signed onto this letter.”
Aboriginal people are more likely to experience serious police misconduct. The Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption Commission (IBAC) recent report into complaints made by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people found over half of the investigations failed to collect or consider relevant evidence.
It also showed conflicts of interest were identified on 84 percent of files, and half of these conflicts were not managed appropriately. Seventy-three per cent of Aboriginal people who made complaints were not updated on the investigation.
The systemic failings of Victoria Police have seriously diminished the Victorian community’s confidence in police, including the use of barrister Nicola Gobbo as a police informant; the death of Yorta Yorta woman Tanya Day in custody; the assault of a disability pensioner by officers; the force’s botched 2019 raid on the Hares and Hyenas bookshop; and its 2017 raid at Inflation nightclub.
Gregor Husper, Inner Melbourne Community Legal’s Police Accountability Principal Solicitor, said investigations into police complaints require different powers and skills to that of the corruption watchdog.
“A Police Ombudsman in Victoria is the only viable solution to ensure there is an independent and proper investigation into all complaints about police misconduct, systemic failings and processes. It’s time for Victoria Police to be held accountable for any misconduct,” Mr Husper said.
“IBAC has the power to investigate complaints of police misconduct, but the corruption watchdog only has capacity to probe around one percent of these complaints. The IBAC Commissioner has admitted that even with more funding, IBAC could only investigate up to five percent of police complaints.”
Nerita Waight added that “years of experience have confirmed what common sense could tell you – when police investigate themselves, complaints aren’t seriously investigated and officers routinely get away with misconduct. The Government must establish an independent police oversight body to independently investigate all complaints.”
Police have significant powers – they carry and use guns, tasers, pepper spray and batons. Officers can stop and search people on the street, and can enter a person’s home, arrest and detain people.
There must be accountability. We are gravely concerned the status quo will allow police misconduct to continue unchecked.