What's wrong with the current system - brief overview
What’s wrong with the current system – brief overview
- The current system for investigating complaints made by the public against police officers is open to abuse (or at least apprehension of bias) as it relies on police officers investigating other police officers. Most complaints are investigated at the Local Area Command level (e.g. by police working in the same police station or area as the police officer the complaint is made about).
- Whilst the current system of complaints allows for some degree of independent oversight by the Ombudsman, it primarily consists of police officers investigating other police officers.
- The Ombudsman’s office oversights serious complaints, but the actual investigation and findings are made by the police (and the Ombudsman’s office generally only looks at the investigation report after the investigation has taken place).
- The Ombudsman’s office does very few investigations themselves. Complaints lodged with the Ombudsman's office are almost always transferred to NSW Police to handle / investigate.
- The Police Integrity Commission generally only deals with police corruption matters.
- Complaints about police behaviour are generally dismissed if the complainant has been charged with a criminal offence relating to the same incident / timeframe. There is a current misconception that all concerns about police conduct can be raised during the criminal defence. However, defence of a criminal charge does not equate to an avenue for complaining about police misconduct. The police officers' conduct, which is the subject of the complaint, may not directly relate to the pending charges against the complainant: if so, it will not be addressed in the criminal defence.
- The current complaints system is primarily an internal disciplinary mechanism between the Commissioner of Police and their employee. It is not designed to include the complainant as part of the process. Complainants have no enforceable right to be informed about the extent of any investigation or its findings. Without this information, complainants do not understand whether they have been believed, and if not, why not.
- Complainants generally receive very little information from NSW Police following the investigation – e.g. they may just receive a short letter stating “your complaint has been investigated. The complaint has not been substantiated”, without being given any reasons.
- The only safeguard in the police legislation for an individual who lodges their complaint with the police, is that the name of a complainant must not be disclosed (with certain exceptions). Of course, depending on the circumstances, it may be easy for the police officer who is the subject of the complaint to guess who the complainant is.