Oversight of Police critical incidents

The NSW Council for Civil Liberties expresses its disappointment with the report on Oversight of Police Critical Incidents by the former Commonwealth Attorney-General Robert McClelland, which was released on 22 January.

That report not only rejected the calls for reform of the current investigative process, which involves police investigating police, but makes recommendations which have the potential to undermine the two regulatory bodies set up following the Wood Royal Commission to protect the public-- the Police Integrity Commission and the NSW Ombudsman.

The NSW Council for Civil Liberties had made a submission to Mr McClelland setting out the reasons that the current system is failing to provide public confidence in the NSW Police and recommending the creation of an independent investigative body for all incidents involving the death or serious injury of a civilian or a policeman resulting from a police operation. Similar recommendations were made by the police integrity commission the law society, the bar council and other groups having extensive experience in the area.

President of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, Stephen Blanks, said:
“The reality is that NSW Police are failing to investigate critical incidents in a way that gives the public confidence that they are committed to rooting out misconduct rather than covering it up. The inadequate investigations of the deaths of Adam Salter and Roberto Laudisio-Curti, and several other recent tragic incidents, plainly demonstrate that the current system is not working and that a new investigative body is necessary.”

International best practice requires that for an investigation to be effective, there must be independence, adequate resources, promptness, sufficient public scrutiny and next-of-kin involvement. The current system does not satisfy those conditions.

The Police Integrity Commission and the NSW Coroner have correctly criticised the lack of rigour with which investigations conducted by the NSW Senior Critical Incident Investigator, and the lack of proper internal or external review of the investigations.

“The recommendations of the McClelland inquiry do not address the criticisms made by the Police Integrity Commission and the NSW Coroner, and if nothing more is done to fix the present system, public confidence in the NSW Police will remain compromised.”, Mr Blanks said.

In relation to the police investigation following the death of the mentally ill Adam Salter who was shot in his home by a police sergeant who called out ‘taser taser taser’ before firing her gun, the Police Integrity Commission recommended that both the senior officer in charge of the investigation and the senior critical incident review officer be disciplined. In addition the Commission recommended that four police officers, who had been commended for their actions following the initial police investigation, should be considered for criminal charges including perjury and giving false evidence to the Police Integrity Commission.