IBAC audit identifies ways Victoria Police can improve complaint handling

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A report has released by Victoria’s anti-corruption and independent police oversight body, IBAC, has identified areas for improvement in Victoria Police’s internal investigations of serious complaints concerning allegations such as corruption and assault made about its officers.

IBAC’s report, Audit of complaints investigated by Professional Standards Command, Victoria Police, examines how well Victoria Police’s Professional Standards Command (PSC) manages complaints by reviewing a sample of investigations it completed during 2015/16. PSC is the central area responsible for Victoria Police’s ethical health and integrity and investigates serious complaints about police.

The complaint investigations the audit considered included allegations against police of assault, improper criminal associations, using or possessing drugs, committing sexual offences, handling stolen goods, making threats to kill, interfering in investigations and misusing information.

IBAC Commissioner, the Honourable Robert Redlich QC said ‘For Victorians to have confidence in our police we need to know that when a serious complaint is made about police, it will be investigated thoroughly and without bias.’

‘More broadly, it is important that Victoria Police applies learnings from complaints, and takes action to address systemic and cultural issues to prevent police misconduct,’ Mr Redlich said.

‘IBAC’s audit identified that there are deficiencies in how some of the more serious complaints about police are investigated by PSC, and we have made clear recommendations to Victoria Police to address these gaps, all of which have been accepted,’ Mr Redlich said.

The IBAC audit was conducted last year and examined how PSC investigated a range of complaints about Victoria Police officers that were finalised in 2015/16. IBAC audited 59 out of 221 investigations completed, selecting those that concerned the more serious complaints, and assessed whether PSC’s investigations were thorough and impartial, and met the standards required for handling such serious allegations.

Issues identified in the audit report include:

  • Poor management of conflicts of interest: 95 per cent of files audited did not explicitly address actual, perceived or potential conflicts of interest between PSC investigators and the police officers they were investigating.
  • Probity concerns: The audit identified some PSC investigators had complaint histories that raised issues of concern and could adversely affect community confidence in the outcome of investigations.
  • Failure to consistently consult with the Office of Public Prosecutions: Concerns were identified about Victoria Police not consistently consulting the Office of Public Prosecutions despite establishing a reasonable belief that a reportable offence had been committed.
  • Inadequate action: IBAC’s auditors disagreed with the action recommended in 15 per cent of files, including two matters where discipline charges were downgraded.
  • Inappropriate file classification: Concern with how some investigations were classified, with most of the sample being classified as a ‘preliminary inquiry’, even when the matter involved allegations of criminality or corruption. The audit found the approach adopted by PSC means the preliminary inquiry classification is being used well beyond its stated purpose.

‘Victoria Police is already taking action to address some of the issues identified. IBAC will closely monitor the implementation of our recommendations and continue our program of auditing and reviewing Victoria Police’s handling of complaints,’ Mr Redlich said.

While not the focus of this audit, the audit provided an indication of a strengthened approach by PSC to investigating allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault following the 2015 Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission review and the creation of Taskforce Salus.

‘IBAC also acknowledges that in response to previous IBAC audits and reviews, Victoria Police is making changes to improve its complaint handling processes,’ Mr Redlich said.

‘One of IBAC’s key roles is to provide independent oversight of Victoria Police, and this audit is just one of the important ways in which we provide this oversight.’

IBAC’s independent police oversight role includes undertaking strategic research and other projects to assist Victoria Police to improve its systems and practices, reviewing internal investigations conducted by Victoria Police, and independently investigating cases of serious or systemic police misconduct and corruption.

To report police misconduct or public sector corruption now visit www.ibac.vic.gov.au or call 1300 735 135.

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