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Reflecting on South Australia's new police complaints scheme

Published on 15 Feb 2019

On 4 September 2017, South Australia adopted a new legislative scheme for dealing with complaints and reports made about SA Police. The new scheme resulted in the closing of the Office of the Police Ombudsman and the Office for Public Integrity (OPI) becoming the agency responsible for overseeing the management of complaints and reports about SA Police and investigations into police conduct.

OPI Director, Fraser Stroud, reflects on the eighteen months of operations under the new police complaints scheme.

What is the role of the OPI in the police complaints scheme?  

The OPI receives complaints and reports about SA Police and oversees the way the manner in which SA Police address those matters, including referring serious allegations directly to the ICAC. 

Why did we need a new scheme?

The previous scheme created unnecessary complexity, duplication and delay. 

The new scheme is designed to ensure that complaints and reports relating to the conduct of police are dealt with in an appropriate and timely manner and are subject to independent oversight.

Looking back, how does the practical operation of the new police complaints scheme compare to your expectations?

I think the new scheme is an improvement on the previous scheme. It is more streamlined and the oversight is more robust. However, as is the case with most new legislation there have been some teething problems, which may require some legislative amendments to resolve.

How many police complaints and report have been made in the first year of operation?

The OPI received or reviewed 2,406 complaints and reports about police in the first year of operation. 

The OPI also reviewed 2,327 assessments undertaken by the Internal Investigations Section (IIS) of SA Police.

How does this compare to the number of complaints and reports made about police under the previous scheme?

It is significantly higher than the number of complaints and reports received under the previous legislative scheme.

In the financial year 2016-2017 the Police Ombudsman and the IIS together received 1,257 complaints and reports. 

The increase in complaints and reports does not necessarily indicate a deterioration in the conduct of SA Police officers.

Under the previous scheme every complaint had to be made in writing, which meant that no complaints about police were taken by telephone.

The new scheme allows complaints to be made via telephone and it was anticipated that the volume of complaints about police would increase as a result. 

What types of complaints and reports are commonly received about police?

Allegations most commonly relate to alleged failures to exercise a power, to carry out a function, or to make a decision. Also figuring prominently are allegations of inappropriate conduct, harassment, inappropriate exercise of power, and failure to comply with a policy or procedure. 

While they are less prominent, there have been a number of complaints and reports about the improper use of confidential information and the use of excessive force.

Is there anything about the current scheme that you think could be improved?

In the Commissioner’s 2017 – 2018 Annual Report he said the scheme was working ‘tolerably well’, largely due to the spirit of cooperation between SA Police and the OPI. 

There are areas that could be fine-tuned and the Commissioner is preparing a report detailing improvements that could be made to the legislative scheme. 

Ultimately whether or not the legislation is amended is a matter for Parliament.

 

This article was published in Issue #1 - February 2019 of ICAC's Integrity Matters newsletter.

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