A recent IBAC report has highlighted concerning patterns and deficiencies in Victoria Police's handling of police complaints by Aboriginal people, particularly children and young people.
The audit report Victoria Police handling of complaints made by Aboriginal people, examines Victoria Police's handling of a sample of 41 complaints made by Aboriginal people and its oversight of 13 serious incidents involving an Aboriginal person.
The issues of police misconduct and investigation of complaints against police are particularly significant in this context because Aboriginal people come into contact with police at a much higher rate than non-Aboriginal people.
The report identified police use of force as the most frequent complaint by Aboriginal people, and that a significant number of the complaints and serious incidents involved Aboriginal children and young people. It also found very few complaints were determined by Victoria Police to be substantiated. In addition, a large proportion of the police files created about the complaints contained indications of bias or a lack of impartiality.
Concerns with the Victoria Police complaint handling systems and processes were also identified, including how Aboriginal status was recorded, a failure to keep the complainant updated on the process of the investigation, and conflicts of interest being poorly identified and managed.
Several of the findings in the report are longstanding, systemic failures within Victoria Police's complaints handling processes which have been identified in previous IBAC reports.
IBAC's report makes 10 recommendations for Victoria Police including the establishment of a dedicated process for handling complaints by Aboriginal people, addressing concerns regarding how police engage with Aboriginal children and young people in the context of arrests, interviews and management in police custody, and addressing serious and ongoing issues for managing conflicts of interest.
IBAC has previously made a number of recommendations for improvement and is committed to working with Victoria Police to implement further recommendations for reform.
The findings and recommendations from the audit will also be used by IBAC to guide improvements in the way it handles complaints made by Aboriginal people and to provide better support to Aboriginal people during the complaints process. These actions will form part of IBAC's Focus Communities Strategy, which aims to improve how IBAC interacts with Victorians who may face particular risks around corruption and police misconduct due to marginalisation.
Key issues identified in the report
- Aboriginal people most frequently complained about police use of force: Almost half of the complaints audited related to the use of force or assaults by police, often during an arrest.
- Very few complaints were substantiated: Of the 41 complaints examined by IBAC, 27 were classified by Victoria Police in a way that a determination of 'substantiated' might be found. Of these, Victoria Police determined that only three (11 per cent) were substantiated
- A substantial number of complaints and serious incidents involved children: 41 per cent of the files examined involved Aboriginal children and young people aged 17 years or younger. Many of these files involved incidents occurring during arrest and several also raised issues about the treatment of, and care provided to, Aboriginal young people in custody.
- Human rights were not sufficiently understood or analysed in investigations: Victoria Police investigators frequently failed to specify the rights under the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 (Vic) that were engaged, limited or breached in the context of the complaint allegations and serious incidents under examination.
- A substantial proportion of files contained indications of bias or a lack of impartiality: 22 per cent of files contained concerning indications of bias or a lack of impartiality on the part of officers and 41 per cent of files contained indicators of bias on the part of investigators.
As part of the audit, IBAC planned five community engagement sessions with Aboriginal communities across Victoria; however, limits on community gatherings due to COVID-19 restrictions meant these consultations could not be held.
IBAC is committed to further engagement with Aboriginal communities and agencies on a range of issues, including improving Aboriginal people's experiences with the police complaints system. The feedback the Aboriginal community provides on the audit’s findings and recommendations will shape further work to improve the police complaints system. The findings from this audit will also help IBAC to improve the way it handles complaints made by Aboriginal people and better support Aboriginal people during the complaints process.
To report police misconduct or public sector corruption now visit www.ibac.vic.gov.au or call 1300 735 135.
Download the full report