Menu

Reform of the Police Complaints System


Recommendations to increase confidence in the handling of complaints against police

 

CLCNSW believes that the recommendations set out below will:

  • improve confidence in the handling of complaints against police;
  • improve access to justice for people whose rights have been violated;
  • provide the basis for a system which is fair for individual complainants, as well as for police officers;
  • make the NSW Police regulatory system for employee conduct more effective; and
  • provide a pathway for NSW to become compliant with international human rights obligations, and to implement certain recommendations made by the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.

 

Key Recommendations 

Build confidence through an independent, binding, complaint option

1            Civilian complainants must have recourse to a complaints-handling organisation which is institutionally and culturally independent of NSW Police. The findings and decisions of this body must be binding.

2            A NSW Law Reform Commission inquiry be established to consider and report on the most appropriate model for independent complaint resolution (including whether this should occur at the initial stage, or as an administrative review option if the complainant is dissatisfied with an initial NSW Police decision).

3            In the interim, a ‘one-stop-shop’, independent of the NSW Police, be established that accepts all complaints against police and forwards them on to the appropriate complaints body (or appropriate police command), taking into account the nature and seriousness of the allegations, the need for impartiality in managing the complaint, and the safety of the complainant.

 

Additional and Interim Recommendations for NSW Police

Preserve integrity of investigations

4            Refrain from expressing public support for police officers' conduct during the media reporting of serious incidents involving police (where there is any hint or possibility of misconduct or error). In particular, senior police who were not present at an incident should not defend, justify or express any opinion about police actions until the investigation into the incident has been finalised.

5          Add provisions to the Police Act 1990 (NSW) to preserve the integrity of initial investigations into incidents involving police officers where:

  1. a person dies; or
  2. there are allegations of serious injury, sexual assault, or injury resulting from the use of a firearm or conducted energy device. 

This must include a prohibition against communication between officers involved in the incident; and the segregation of police officers present, until they can be interviewed by the investigators in charge of the investigation.

Increase transparency and provide complainants with information about process and results

6            Provide as much information as possible, in writing, to the complainant at the conclusion of the investigation. This should include:

  1. a summary of the steps taken to investigate the complaint, including which parties were interviewed. Details of each interviewed police officers' account of the incident should be provided to the complainant;
  2. the findings of the investigation;
  3. any actions already taken, or planned, as a result of the investigation; and
  4. that if dissatisfied with the manner of investigation,  the complainant can contact the Ombudsman’s Office to request a review.

Section 150 of the Police Act 1990 (NSW) be amended to require provision of the above information to the complainant.

7            Provide the complainant with the reason(s) for a decision (under s139 of the Police Act 1990 (NSW)) that a complaint does not need to be investigated. Section 139 of the Police Act 1990 (NSW) be amended to this effect.

8            Notify the complainant not only of any decision to discontinue investigations, but the reason(s) for that decision. This requirement be included in s148A(4) of the Police Act 1990 (NSW).

Make information available and accessible to prospective complainants to allow an informed decision about whether to complain

9            NSW Police to provide greater public access to information, via their website, in relation to making a complaint. For example:

  1. Make the NSW Police policy document “Complaint Handling Guidelines”  publicly available, in accordance with the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009 (NSW).
  2. If possible, provide information about which types of incidents / allegations are actually managed (not just overseen, or provided for in legislation) by the various bodies involved in the complaint process, including: the Ombudsman, the Police Integrity Commission, Complaints Management Teams within the Local Area Command, local police stations, and the Professional Standards Command. 
  3. Provided details about what safeguards (if any) are in place to protect a complainant from retribution / retaliation. Include information about how details of complaints are stored, and who has access to the database.
  4. Make information about how to make a complaint about a police officer more prominent and accessible on the NSW Police website.
  5. Provide links or contact details for the Ombudsman and the Police Integrity Commission, and information about the role of those organisations.
  6. Provide information about complaints against police in major community languages.  The titles and links to these documents should be in each of the relevant community languages.

10            Ensure that every police station has publicly accessible and prominent information about making complaints.

Introduce measures to protect complainants from retaliation: Inspire confidence that it is safe to complain

11            Make it a criminal offence to victimise a complainant. A new specific offence should be incorporated in the Police Act 1990 (NSW),

12            Allow complainants to choose how they want to be contacted by NSW Police during the processing & investigation of their complaint (in addition to communication in writing). This should include whether or not they consent to being contacted by NSW Police by telephone, or by house visit, and whether they wish to be contacted via their lawyer / advocate. Include these options in the NSW Police online form and downloadable form, and future forms designed by the Ombudsman and/or NSW Police.

13            For serious allegations, police management must make arrangements to minimise the likelihood of contact between the police officer involved and the complainant, until the complaint is finalised. This should include appropriate arrangements for complainants held in custody.

14            Transfer a complaint to the Ombudsman for direct investigation where a complaint is lodged in relation to an incident, and the complainant is subsequently charged with an offence relating to that incident. In other words, charges laid after a complaint has been made must be scrutinised for possible police misconduct in and of themselves. Establish a process for identifying all such situations.

Take complaints seriously despite charges against the complainant

15       Take complaints about police conduct seriously even if there are charges or convictions against the complainant relating to the same timeframe. These complaints must not be automatically dismissed. If necessary, the complaint should be kept open, but the investigation deferred until prosecution of the relevant charge is complete.  

If there is an adverse judicial finding against police, any previously declined complaint should be reopened and investigated on the merits.

 

Additional and Interim Recommendations for NSW Ombudsman

Make information available and accessible to prospective complainants to allow an informed decision about whether to complain

16            Enhance information on the Ombudsman’s website to improve accessibility. For example:

  1. Include a template specifically for making a written complaint about police, available online and in hardcopy.
  2. Contain links or contact details for police commands or the Commissioner, and instructions about which organisation is most appropriate for which type of complaint; and
  3. Include more detailed information about complaints against police in major community languages.  The titles and links to these documents should be in each of the relevant community languages. For allegations of serious misconduct by the police, the information should not direct the person to contact the police first.

17            Provide additional information, on the Ombudsman’s website and in printed material, in relation to the management of complaints against police. For example:

  1. Which types of incidents / allegations are actually managed (not just overseen, or provided for in legislation) by the various bodies involved in the complaint process, including: the Ombudsman, the Police Integrity Commission, Complaints Management Teams within the Local Area Command, local police stations, and the Professional Standards Command.
  2. What safeguards (if any) are in place to protect a complainant from retribution / retaliation. This should include information about how details of complaints are stored, and who has access to the database.

Other issues

Recommendations 8, 14, and 15 (above) also apply to the NSW Ombudsman.

 

These recommendations are endorsed by: