Police harm goes unanswered
Victoria Police have extensive powers. They carry and use guns, tasers, pepper spray and batons, they can stop and search people on the street, and enter a person’s home.
Who is keeping an eye on how these powers are being used?
If you are a victim of police misconduct, your options are to make a complaint to Victoria Police itself, or to the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC) – which will refer your complaint back to Victoria Police 99% of the time. Unsurprisingly, in most cases when police investigate themselves they find nothing wrong.
There is no independent monitoring of police powers and use of force, this system is failing people who have been hurt by police.
It is time for a Police Ombudsman, to keep our community safe.
Victoria current complaints system:
Police do not keep you and your harm at the centre of the complaints process. If you are a victim of police harm, there are no wellbeing or legal supports to help you through the system.
Police believe their own officers, while victims are undermined and disbelieved.
For example, see IBAC’s Victoria Police handling of complaints made by Aboriginal people report.
Putting in a complaint, especially in small rural towns, can bring about backlash, unwanted charges and intimidation. Many people who experience police harm are too afraid to make a complaint.
When police investigate police, there is no public accountability. Which means systemic issues such as racism, sexism and other human rights abuses are not identified and addressed.
There is no systematic approach for police integrity in Victoria.
Victoria Police often point to their Professional Standards Command (PSC) as the body that investigates misconduct and disciplines officers. But the PSC is part of Victoria Police and is no substitute for independent investigations.
While police continue to investigate themselves, there are no independent checks on, or monitoring of:
- Use of force
- Weapons use
- Stop and search powers
- Privacy and information sharing
The Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption Commission is able to receive and investigate allegations of serious misconduct. IBAC was established as an anti-corruption commission to protect against government corruption, though police complaints make up the bulk of its work and it is overwhelmed by the volume of complaints it receives. IBAC investigates less than 1% of complaints it receives, and often these investigations take years to complete. This situation takes resources away from IBAC’s core work tackling government corruption in general, does not serve complainants and fails to hold police to account.
Photo: Christopher Burns
Kirsty was returning home after a night out with friends at the Melbourne Fringe Festival. She was standing alone waiting for a train when four Protective Services Officers (PSOs), who are members of Victoria Police, approached her.
Kirsty was asked to provide a valid train ticket and identification. She cooperated at first, but started to feel unsafe when asked for her home address. Kirsty communicated her discomfort with the question and refused to answer.
In response, she was handcuffed, and pushed violently by one of the PSOs, which caused her to hit her head against a brick wall. The PSO pulled Kirsty’s handcuffed wrists upwards toward her shoulder blades, causing sharp pain, while he verbally abused her. “Stop carrying on and keep walking bitch,” he said. “You can’t even walk properly, you drunk slut,” he continued.
The men forced Kirsty into a room. “It was a small room, it was only them and no one would have known what was going on [in the room]. It was four blokes, with no provocation, and I thought that they were going to rape me.”
Kirsty complained about this incident to the Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption Commission (IBAC), who referred the complaint back to Victoria Police for investigation. Three months later, IBAC sent a brief letter to Kirsty stating the agency had not found any wrongdoing occurred.
Instead, Victoria Police criminally charged Kirsty for what occurred on the train platform. The charges were eventually dismissed and she successfully sued Victoria Police for damages in a civil case, but she has never received an apology.
“The three years after [the incident] was when my life spiralled out of control,” Kirsty said. “That would not have happened if the letter from IBAC disclosed what they had uncovered. The whole thing should have stopped after three or six-months. But to go on for five years and waste taxpayers’ money was horrific. It’s not justice at all.”
Photo: Christopher Burns
Emma* experienced horrific family violence at the hands of her ex-partner, who served as a police officer at the time. Emma courageously complained about the abuse to his employer – Victoria Police. They did nothing and told her to ‘patch things up’ with her then partner who continued to abuse her and her children, becoming increasingly violent. Emma persisted with her complaints but wasn’t believed.
Emma disclosed to Victoria Police that she felt so unsafe that she planned to leave her abuser, flee interstate with her children, and then make a statement against her abuser. This information was leaked by the investigating officer to her abuser’s manager and on to him, resulting in predictably violent and life threatening outcomes for Emma. Emma eventually managed to get Victoria Police to open an investigation – but only after her seven year old daughter was assaulted by her police officer perpetrator, and Child Protection became involved.
Emma complained to both Victoria Police and Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption Commission (IBAC) about the mishandling of her family violence complaints and the leaking of her escape plan to her perpetrator. Victoria Police told Emma she had ‘no complaint’ and her concerns were unfounded. IBAC referred her complaints back to Victoria Police Professional Standards Command (PSC) as a protected disclosure complaint. Victoria Police PSC then referred Emma’s safety plan leak and family violence complaints back to local officers and colleagues of her perpetrator for investigation.
Victoria Police dismissed Emma’s escape plan leak complaint on the basis that protecting member welfare was Victoria Police’s primary obligation, and there were concerns held by police about her perpetrator’s wellbeing if she ‘blindsided him by leaving’. That complaint was investigated and oversighted locally by the same officers involved in the cover up of her perpetrator’s offending and the leaking of her safety plan. Emma drew these conflicts of interest to the attention of IBAC, noting also that the 12month limit for charging the officer who had leaked her safety and escape plan was fast running out. IBAC ignored Emma and did not review her complaint file or consider her concerns for two years, by which time it was too late to charge the officer who leaked her information.
None of the officers involved in the leaking of Emma’s safety and escape plan or the cover up of her perpetrator’s offending have been held accountable or faced consequences other than receiving ‘feedback’ from their managers. Nearly four years after Emma complained about police officers covering up her perpetrator’s offending and committing perjury- that complaint investigation – referred by IBAC to Victoria Police – remains open but inactive, with IBAC taking no action to expedite it or to provide updates to Emma.
“You will not find a victim who hasn’t found dealing with IBAC traumatic, frustrating, and futile. You will not find a family violence complainant to IBAC who is happy with IBAC,” Emma said.
*Not her real name