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Police complaints system needs drastic overhaul

Police complaints system needs drastic overhaul

By Karin Derkley

Police 


Community lawyers are so disenchanted with the police complaints system they are no longer bothering to report instances of police misconduct, preferring to refer matters directly to civil proceedings instead. Fitzroy Legal Service, Social Action, Policy and Law Reform manager Meghan Fitzgerald, told a press conference at Parliament House this week she had yet to see a police complaint substantiated. “Making a police complaint is so ineffective that we don’t consider it to be a useful or viable option – we would go ahead and refer matters directly to civil proceedings,” she said. When a complaint is lodged the result is invariably a more vigorous prosecution of the charges associated with the arrest. The conference was held by community and human rights lawyers to call on the Victorian government to overhaul Victoria Police’s complaint system after a series of reports on leaked CCTV footage of police brutality revealed failures in the system. Lawyer Jeremy King, who acted for police assault victim Jessica Scarlett-Rhodes, said her case showed “there is a disconnect between the complaint system which almost always results in the complaint being unsubstantiated”. The judge in her civil action found she had been the victim of “egregious conduct and aggravated damages”. The Law Institute of Victoria (LIV) has also called for a better police complaints management system. LIV president Belinda Wilson described as “distressing and disturbing” police behaviour shown in CCTV footage. These included an assault by six police officers on a disability pensioner whose psychologist had called on police after concerns about his mental health, and the violent apprehension of a young man in a Preston chemist in 2016. “We need to take action now to make it clear that any potential police misconduct is unacceptable. We need a complaints system that is victim-centred and ensures public confidence in our police force,” Ms Wilson said. The fact that 90 per cent of complaints are referred back to Victoria Police for investigation showed that the current system is clearly failing, said Tamar Hopkins, founding lawyer of Flemington & Kensington Community Legal Centre’s Police Accountability Project. “We need a body that is not just hierarchically and institutionally separate from Victoria Police, but also culturally and practically separate.” There were models to draw from, such as the Police Ombudsman of Northern Ireland which is staffed by specialist investigators. Ms Wilson said the Victorian government needs to take a leadership position to establish a complaints system that is independent, transparent and holds police accountable for their misconduct. “We urge the government to work collaboratively with the LIV to ensure that Victoria's policies on police accountability reflect a commitment to fairness, equality and the rule of law,” Ms Wilson said.

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