By CLA CEO Bill Rowlings
WA Premier Mark McGowan has written defensively to Civil Liberties Australia’s WA Director, Margaret Howkins, responding to CLA’s call for a major change to police-investigating-police (PIP).
The police internal investigations take place after police officers have shot someone, killed and/or maimed one or more citizens in car chases or with stun guns, or occur after other major complaints about police behaviour.
Imagine if you allowed senior bank officers to investigate complaints against the banks. No complaint would ever succeed (that’s basically the system that operated for the past 20 or so years inside the banks).
Police-investigating-police complaints, killings and cock-ups is identical in nature.
WA police killings of at least four people in the past two years, the most recent just a month or so ago, provided the impetus for the CLA letter to the Premier.
CLA called for an end to police-investigating-police.
(CLA will make a poster presentation at the upcoming ANZ Criminology conference in Perth: 10-13 Dec: ANZ Society of Criminology conference: ‘Justice Reimagined’. Perth Convention Centre. Details: https://tinyurl.com/y4wzjmce
Mr McGowan’s letter listed reasons why police use lethal force and stated that WA’s Police Internal Affairs Unit reports to the coroner and is independently monitored by WA’s Corruption and Crime Commission.
But the CCC’s annual reports reveal increasing backlogs in investigations, and serious mental ill health issues in both citizens’ cases and with the police themselves possibly suffering too. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-10-23/wa-police-taser-data-obtained-under-foi-reveals-state-hotspots/11627806
The Premier wrote that WA Police officers are trained in tactical communication skills to negotiate with offenders and are obliged to consider a checklist in their heads – situational tactical options model (STOM) – in tight situations. The model is designed to reduce threats and keep all people safe.
STOM obviously isn’t working properly, CLA says, based on media reports of citizen deaths and injuries. So change is needed for WA people to be safer when police are around.
Mr McGowan said body-worn cameras have been issued to frontline police troops since June 2019.
“In a first for Australian jurisdictions, the video is automatically activated upon an officer drawing their firearm, and includes back-capture of video prior to activation. By end of 2020 body-worn cameras will be the norm for more than 4200 police officers across WA.”
Technology can’t change culture
But technology can’t change culture, CLA notes.
It will be not of much use if the body-worn cameras simply provide post-fact video of citizens continuing to die or being bashed at the hands of WA police officers.
CLA in WA will continue to campaign for much greater transparency in police internal affairs investigations, promoting the benefits both to police officers themselves and the health and welfare of the community.
No-one believes bankers investigating bankers is a good idea: why would police investigating police be any better?
When independent investigators from outside the WA force, accompanied by civil liberties and human rights observers, do the investigating, then police insiders will not be giving their mates the benefit of considerable doubt.
CLA’s October 2019 CLArion newsletter carried this item from a former state attorney-general, now barrister, commenting on the same issue:
Corruption continues: Caesar judges Caesar ‘very benignly’, former AG says
Systemic corruption remains rife in Queensland, former state attorney general Dean Wells claims.
Wells was a Labor AG who helped to implement recommendations of the Fitzgerald inquiry 30 years ago.
The inquiry resulted in 18-year Premier Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen resigning, the calling of two by-elections, and the jailing of three former ministers and the Police Commissioner (who also lost his knighthood). It was the prime catalyst for ending the National Party’s 32-year run as Queensland’s governing party.
The Bjelke-Petersen era was noted for the restriction of civil liberties, increased police power and a gerrymandered electoral system.
Wells, now a barrister, told Guardian Australia he believes the state needs a new inquiry to address creeping problems with oversight of police and the public sector
“Process corruption is still rife in Queensland.”
Wells is particularly critical of the way the state’s Crime and Corruption Commission operates on what it calls “the devolution principle”, which means the vast majority of complaints about public sector agencies are ultimately handed back to those same agencies to investigate and act.
“It’s not just Caesar judging Caesar, it’s Caesar judging Caesar very benignly,” he said.