The independent investigation of complaints against police


Its time for Parliament to legislate for independent investigation of complaints against police

A landmark Parliamentary Inquiry into Victoria’s police complaints system has recommended that the Victorian Government establish a Police Corruption and Misconduct Division in IBAC to ensure that it can independently and effectively investigate complaints and disclosures about Victoria Police.

The Victorian Government must, as a matter of urgency act upon this report and commit to carrying out these recommendations.

The report by the parliamentary IBAC Committee can be found here.

A detailed policy paper on independent investigation is available here

Policy Briefing Paper 2017 covershot    

Designing a better system

Modern community expectations (and our human rights obligations) demand that investigations of complaints against police be conducted by a body which meets these five benchmarks:

1. Independent of the Police—hierarchically, practically, culturally and politically;
2. Capable of conducting an adequate investigation;
3. Prompt
4. Open to public scrutiny; and
5. Victim-centred, and enables the victim to participate in the investigation

Effective Investigtions Graphic

The global trend is toward models that meet these five requirements. It has been achieved elsewhere. In Canada, Northern Ireland and elsewhere civilian investigation service can investigate all complaints against police professionally, promptly and independently.

More detail is available in the Policy Briefing Paper.

Send a letter to tell the Victoria Government that Victorians deserve the independent and effective investigation of all complaints against the police:

Take action for police accountability


Shouldn’t police own their own integrity system?

The independent investigation of complaints against police in no way removes Victoria Police’s responsibility for providing its extensive recruitment, training and professional development programs and the multitude of ways supervisors monitor and manage practice issues.

To illustrate, an airline company retains total responsibility for the recruitment, training, professional development and professional standards of its pilots and staff, despite the presence of independent air crash investigation bodies.  A hospital maintains responsibility to ensure its medical staff is as competent and professional as possible despite the independent Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) and medical boards adjudication of complaints.

Under the proposed independent complaints model, which would assess and have capacity to investigate all critical incidents and all allegations it assesses as ‘serious’, Victoria Police would maintain control over its existing Management Intervention Model (MIM) – a process for police managers to respond to lower-level misconduct issues using a combination of verbal guidance, action plans and managerial notices.

Independent investigations would likely result in vastly improved policy, internal culture, training and operational practices that will enhance both police and public safety.

Read more here.

Wont it cost too much?

Properly investigated and adequately addressed allegations of human rights abuses by police would potentially save the state millions. It would address complaints that currently end up in expensive civil litigation cases. It would free most of the 200 serving members currently deployed within Professional Standards Command from investigating their own colleagues for frontline police duties and potentially

In Northern Ireland (PONI) independent investigation costs 1.127% of the total budget for police.

In New Zealand, independent investigation is 0.28% of the total budget for the police. In Victoria, then, if we took a figure somewhere in between these two figures, we would expect to need to pay $16 million a year for independent investigations. ( 0.7% of the total police budget.) This is a very modest price to pay for the size of the police force in Victoria and the importance of the issue.

Victoria Police currently pay for internal investigation. The money spent on police internal investigation could be re-directed back into the overall police budget.


What’s wrong with the current system?

An avalanche of news stories from people who have experienced police abuse provide a shocking glimpse into the failings of Victoria’s police complaints system.

Clients of Robinson Gill Lawyers, the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service, Fitzroy Legal Service and Flemington & Kensington Community Legal Centre have revealed the failings of a system where police investigate police, after disturbing incidents including:

  • One person left too terrified to complain after being beaten, abused, pepper-sprayed and filmed by six police who attended a mental health call-out
  • A young education employee, Jessie Scarlett-Rhodes, who was handcuffed and hurled headfirst into a divvy van, causing head injuries and a fractured nose. She was then charged by police after she made a complaint, and had her complaint dismissed following a police internal investigation.
  • One person being repeatedly punched, hit with a baton and stomped on by police after his arrest. His excessive force complaint was dismissed following a police investigation.

In Australia police are rarely prosecuted or disciplined for the death assault or ill-treatment of a member of the public. This is because the current system of accountability is not working.

An analysis of police complaint substantiation rates indicates that less than 10% of all complaints to police are ever substantiated, and less than 4% of all assault complaints. However, when courts are given the chance to assess allegations of police mistreatment, they consistently find those allegations have substance, despite being dismissed by the police complaint system.

Is IBAC working?

IBAC is not currently capable of holding police to account for misconduct. In part, this is due to a lack of resources and investigative powers; they simply cannot investigate more cases with current staff levels.  But it is also underpinned by an attitude—that a person accused of serious professional misconduct can be investigated by their own colleagues—that is completely at odds with public opinion, international human rights standards, police accountability research and the global trend away from oversight-only bodies.

The new IBAC commissioner Robert Redlich QC has stated that, with current powers and legislation IBAC can’t adequately investigate police misconduct. IBAC investigators have no powers to search or arrest, leading to some cases falling through the cracks.

New anti-corruption boss warns IBAC too shackled to investigate police properly, Farrah Tomazin, The Age, 20 May, 2018

Making Human Rights Matter to IBAC

IBAC’s new Victoria Police audit is welcome but not enough.

Send a letter to tell the Victoria Government that Victorians deserve the independent and effective investigation of all complaints against the police:

Take action for police accountability

Recent Media:

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Corruption watchdog flames Victoria Police over internal investigations, Cameron Houston & Chris Vedelago, The Age,

“Victoria Police officers involved in deaths or serious injuries to the public are not properly investigated by the force due to “clear conflicts of interest” and most cases failed to include evidence from independent witnesses, a damning report has found….”

IBAC ‘concerned’ with Victoria Police handling of serious incidents, Anthony Dowsley, Herald Sun,

“THE state’s anti-corruption watchdog has identified weaknesses in how Victoria Police handles incidents involving its officers that result in deaths or serious injuries to the public….”

Victoria Police ‘deficiencies’ found in IBAC report on internal reviews, Zalika Rizmal and Charlotte King, ABC News, March 27, 2018

“Victoria’s anti-corruption watchdog says there are “concerning deficiencies” in the way Victoria Police reviews serious incidents, including those that kill or injure members of the public….”

Corruption watchdog to probe disgraced integrity cop’s actions on racism complaints, Tammy Mills & Cameron Houston, The Age,

“Victoria’s corruption watchdog has widened its investigation into online trolling by disgraced assistant commissioner Brett Guerin to review the former police ethics boss’ actions on racism complaints….

IT's time for parliamnet to legislate for independent investigations of police complaints.

Tamar Hopkins, Researcher, speaking on behalf of the Police Accountability Project: Photo: VCOSS

Tamar Hopkins, Researcher, speaking on behalf of the Police Accountability Project: Photo: VCOSS


Yvonne Berry quote



Send a letter to tell the Victoria Government that Victorians deserve the independent and effective investigation of all complaints against the police:

Take action for police accountability

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More case studies available in the Policy Briefing Paper.


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