Special feature by IBAC Deputy Commissioner Kylie Kilgour
In October, IBAC tabled its special report Police misconduct issues and risks associated with Victoria Police’s Critical Incident Response Team (CIRT). Concerningly, this special report highlights several incidents and issues involving Victoria Police’s CIRT, as well as risks and vulnerabilities that undermine the team and the professional standards expected of officers with their level of specialist training, weapons, and expertise.
IBAC's special report identifies repeated failures of CIRT officers to accurately report their use of force. This reporting failure reduces transparency and creates inadequate risk assessment and planning processes, which can increase the risk that CIRT officers will use force on members of the public.
Victoria Police's CIRT takes a leading role in responding to high-risk incidents in the community. Such incidents regularly involve significant threats to the safety of those involved, including the responding police officers and members of the public. Despite the difficult nature of this work, CIRT officers are expected to uphold Victoria Police values, which include safety, integrity, respect, and professionalism.
IBAC's findings include:
- poor communication by some CIRT officers when responding to incidents
- repeated failures of CIRT officers to report their use of force
- inadequate risk assessment processes, increasing the risk that CIRT officers will use force on members of the public
- CIRT officers acting inconsistently with the Charter of Human Rights, including a failure to advise people of their rights and inform them of the reason for their arrest and detention
- instances where CIRT officers were not carrying water to deliver appropriate aftercare to people affected by oleoresin capsicum spray (OC spray or capsicum spray)
- a lack of gender diversity in CIRT (90 per cent male), which is not representative of Victoria Police’s broader workforce or the Victorian community.
IBAC had identified several incidents involving CIRT officers that raised misconduct issues and risks. Three incidents highlighted these vulnerabilities to IBAC and were the focus of this special report:
Following the Inflation Nightclub incident, Operations Lynd and Wingan, and IBAC's independent police oversight, a range of recommendations have been made to Victoria Police to reduce police misconduct vulnerabilities.
Victoria Police has responded to IBAC's recommendations by making improvements to its policies and procedures. These improvements have been made in the following areas:
- regular drug testing of officers
- complaints handling processes
- use of force reporting, with the introduction of a new electronic system by 2023
- adherence to Victoria Police's human rights obligations
- greater action taken against officers who engage in misconduct.
A key recommendation from this special report is for Victoria Police to improve the accuracy of, and compliance with, its use of force reporting. This will assist both Victoria Police and IBAC to ensure force is used according to policy and legislation and to identify trends and patterns in the use of force by officers that may need to be investigated.
Further recommendations aim to strengthen how CIRT undertakes operational risk assessments, and to ensure consistency in how officers are deployed, while also making sure CIRT officers are clear on their role when they attend incidents.
Victoria Police has now written to IBAC to formally acknowledge it has received IBAC's recommendations and will consider them and respond to each of recommendation by the required timeframes (between 6-12 months).