Meghan Fitzgerald, Lawyer with Fitzroy Legal Service, spoke at a media conference this morning, Wednesday 4 April 2018, which called for a review of Victoria's police complaints system. Read the full statement below.
"These individual cases are examples of a much wider problem.
It is extremely challenging for an individual to go against institutional power, particularly where there has been significant violence at the hands of police and there is structural disadvantage affecting that individual.
Lawyers cannot offer meaningful protection outside the courtroom, and many individuals I have worked with elect not to lodge a complaint for fear of retribution. When a complaint is lodged, an individual can in my experience expect a vigorous prosecution of charges associated with the arrest.
Working as a community lawyer over the past ten years, I am yet to see a complaint substantiated. From my perspective, many of these complaints present lost opportunities for the police force to address and improve methods of response and to reflect on the way in which policing may be impacting marginalised communities.
Even in those cases where defence against criminal charges routinely associated with these matters – resist police and assault police – have been withdrawn or successfully defended, and civil proceedings have ensued and been successful, I have never been advised of a complaint that has been substantiated.
Police have significant and important responsibilities to act as role models in the community.
An effective and independent complaints and investigation body is the foundation of professionalism and accountability for any government or indeed corporate body.
The police in particular should understand the importance of the rule of law and the responsible use of powers granted to them as officers of the law.
In relation to this particular case, the role of police in the circumstances of effecting an arrest is to do so with the minimum amount of force required to secure the safe custody of the accused. Our client pursued the appropriate complaint channels and the conduct of the attending police members has been found to be un-problematic. Civil proceedings are under way, so it would be inappropriate to comment on whether the use of force was appropriate in all the circumstances.
However, given the recently published online comments of the previous head of ethical standards, Assistant Commissioner of Police Mr Brett Guerin, comments that can only be described as egregiously offensive statements of racial vilification, against the backdrop of a complaints system that is at best unresponsive to the expectations of the community, it would seem difficult for senior management to maintain there are no cultural problems to be addressed within Victoria Police. Prior to public reporting on Assistant Commissioner Guerin, it has been reported that both IBAC and Victoria Police had determined that matter did not warrant investigation.
These comments are not intended to detract from the dutiful service to the community of thousands of police members daily. Failure to address complaints in an independent and transparent manner that is referrable to community expectations impacts those members also and the reputation of Victoria Police as a whole. It is for these reasons that we wholeheartedly support a review of the complaints system to introduce independence and accountability so that incidents of significant concern are dealt with promptly and decisively."
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