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Offensive comments drive call for independent police complaints body

Offensive comments drive call for independent police complaints body

By Karin Derkley

Corruption Police 

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Extraordinarily offensive comments by a former senior Victorian police officer responsible for professional standards highlights the need for a complaints system that holds police accountable for their conduct, says the Law Institute of Victoria.

Assistant Commissioner Brett Guerin expressed a string of racist comments as well as offensive criticism of former colleagues on social media. Exposure of the comments, made anonymously, prompted Mr Guerin to resign on Monday.

“The Victorian government must show leadership by establishing a complaints system that is independent, transparent, and holds police accountable for their misconduct," LIV president Belinda Wilson said following the revelations.

"It is clear the current complaints system does not meet Australia's human rights obligations."

Other legal organisations have also been outspoken in calling for an independent police complaints body following the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC) investigation into Mr Guerin’s misconduct.

"That the head of VicPol's Professional Standards Command can hold such views drives home the need for a police complaints body that is culturally and practically independent of police," the Flemington & Kensington Community Legal Centre tweeted.

The Muslim Legal Network said Mr Guerin's conduct "raised serious questions about Professional Standards Command and the senior individuals who decided this man should lead it."

Liberty Victoria posted on its Facebook page: "Head of 'Professional Standards Command'. Let that sink in. We need an independent body to investigate complaints against police."

At the state parliament's IBAC committee on Monday, Victoria Police said they want to keep handling complaints against officers, arguing that getting another agency involved would send the organisation "back to the last century".

Assistant Commissioner Luke Cornelius was reported as saying that change would not come about "by having a bunch of carpetbagger lawyers swooping in on our organisation and giving us 101 on ... what the United Nations reckons human rights looks like."

But Flem-Ken Legal executive officer Anthony Kelly says it is a myth that only police have the skills and experience to conduct investigations into allegations of police misconduct.

"Independent police complaint bodies tend to have high police trust and satisfaction." He pointed to the Police Ombudsman in Northern Ireland which enjoys high levels of police satisfaction, with 57 per cent of police there considering it made police more accountable.

In Victoria, only 9 per cent of complaints against police officers were substantiated in 2016, compared to 22 per cent in Northern Ireland and 23 per cent in New York, which also has an independent oversight body.

The LIV has called on the Victorian 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".

Commenting on the IBAC inquiry into the external oversight of police corruption and misconduct in Victoria, Victoria Legal Aid has called for "a robust, independent and external body” to investigate allegations of police misconduct and corruption. “Without this, public confidence in policing will inevitably be undermined,” VLA Chief Counsel Tim Marsh said.


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