Police Investigating Police: Business as Usual in Victoria

By Nick Pendergrast

Family and friends of Tanya Day, who died while in police custody.
Photograph: Julian Smith/AAP.

Calla Wahlquist has recently reported in the Guardian that a ‘coroner investigating the death in custody of Aboriginal woman Tanya Day has referred the case to the department of public prosecutions to determine whether criminal negligence has occurred’. This is a rare example where police actions in Victoria will be given oversight by a body separate from the police.

Earlier this year, this problem of police investigating police was highlighted in a passionate and informative Invasion Day speech by Apryl Day, the daughter of Tanya Day.

Apryl Day speaking at the 2020 Invasion Day rally in Melbourne.

This issue of police investigating police is something I’ve looked into further, by drawing on the latest Annual Report by the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC), who investigate complaints against police in Victoria, where Tanya Day’s death occurred.

Table 23 of this report shows that only 27/3709 allegations related to Victoria Police in 2017/2018 were investigated by IBAC (0.7%). 1827 were dismissed (49.3%), 981 were referred to another body, including the Victoria police (26.4%), 864 (23.3%) were ‘Noted’ which means investigated by Victoria police, with IBAC have the option to review Victoria Police’s investigation and 10 (0.3%) were ‘Returned’ to Victoria police.

So police investigating police is certainly regularly the case in Victoria.

But out of the 0.7% of allegations that are actually investigated by IBAC, how many actually result in any consequences for the officer/s involved? It seems that this data specifically is not in the report, but Table 8 shows an overall figure of 35/6293 complaints (against a public body or officer OR Victoria Police employees) ending up with criminal proceedings or brief of evidence to Office of Public Prosecutions (less than 0.6%). Table 5 shows 81/6293 (1.3%) of overall complaints were investigated by IBAC, compared to only 0.7% of complaints against police, meaning that the total number of complaints against police specifically leading to criminal proceedings or brief of evidence to Office of Public Prosecutions is likely to be a lower proportion than the overall number, but even if we take the same overall rate (35/81 = 43%) and apply that to the police specifically, this would mean that only about 11.6 out of the 27 allegations against police that were investigated by IBAC led to criminal proceedings or brief of evidence to Office of Public Prosecutions – about 0.3% of total complaints against police.

Having this institution in society that acts with nearly total impunity and mostly investigates itself is very dangerous.