Police investigate most complaints including those lodged at IBAC. Minor complaints may be dealt with informally. Lengthy interviews and months of investigations are usual for serious complaints. They may result in discipline, caution or counselling, at police discretion. The PSC can review investigations and consider systemic issues. Some information can be obtained under FoI. Aboriginal liaison officers can also assist. IBAC hears some complaints but generally has a broader role.
The role of the police
Regardless of where you lodge your complaint (i.e. with the police or with IBAC), in almost all circumstances, it will be the police who investigate your complaint. A complaint made directly to the police will be handled according to how serious the Police Conduct Unit considers your allegations to be.
A complaint of serious misconduct (e.g. the alleged conduct amounts to a criminal offence that is punishable by imprisonment, or is disgraceful, or is likely to damage the reputation of the police force) is required to be investigated formally.
Police have the discretion to not investigate less serious complaints, but to deal with them as “customer service issues”. These complaints (e.g. allegations of rudeness, or failure to investigate the report of a crime) are usually handled quickly and informally at a local or district police management level. Police also have the discretion to dismiss trivial complaints. If you think the Police Conduct Unit has wrongly characterised your complaint as trivial and wrongly dismissed your complaint, you should complain to IBAC.
Police investigations usually involve at least one interview between the police officer assigned to investigate the complaint and the person making the complaint. The length of the interview depends on the seriousness of the complaint, how clearly the complainant explains the issue they are complaining about, and the complexity of the scenario into which an investigation is being undertaken. Subsequently, police officers will interview witnesses and make various inquiries. Sometimes, legal and scientific advice is obtained. Most of the police officers who investigate complaints are experienced; many of them are detectives.
Once an investigation is completed (this typically takes several months), the results of the investigation are referred to the officer in charge of the Police Conduct Unit, who decides whether or not the investigation has substantiated the complaint (i.e. proved that the complaint is true).
If the complaint is found to be substantiated – or if the investigation uncovers matters not raised by the complainant that indicate impropriety on the part of a police officer – the police decide whether or not to discipline, caution or counsel the police officer. The complainant is advised of the outcome of their specific complaint, but is not usually informed of other issues the investigation may have uncovered.
Also, the Police Conduct Unit can review investigations. As well as ensuring complaints are handled properly, reviews of police investigations allow the Police Conduct Unit to identify broader systemic issues that may need to be investigated.
If you have any doubt about how your complaint might be handled, it is best to first contact the Police Conduct Unit, which will be able to advise you in confidence (for contact details of the Victoria Police Conduct Unit, see “Contacts”).
You can access a substantial part of your police file by requesting (in writing) a copy of your file under the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (Vic).
Your letter should be addressed to:
Victoria Police Freedom of Information Officer
Freedom of Information Office, Victoria Police Centre
GPO Box 913, Melbourne Vic 3001
However, you may not be able to access some statements and the police may oppose you accessing your file. Further information can be found on the Victoria Police website at www.police.vic.gov.au (click on “Our services”, then “Freedom of information”). See also Freedom of information law.
People of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent who have a complaint about the police can contact one of the Police Aboriginal Liaison Officers.
Victoria Police Aboriginal Liaison Officers
Aboriginal Policy and Research Unit, Victoria Police Centre
637 Flinders Street, Docklands Vic 3008
Tel: 9247 5245
The Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission Act 2011 (Vic) (“IBAC Act”) sets out IBAC’s functions and powers. These include:
•conducting investigations into police corruption and serious misconduct;
•analysing Victoria Police’s systems to prevent police corruption and serious misconduct;
•publicly exposing police corruption and serious misconduct.
In almost all circumstances, it will be the police who investigate your complaint. However, IBAC may conduct the investigation into a complaint from the beginning when:
•the complaint is against a very senior police officer;
•the complaint relates to serious problems with police practices or procedures;
•IBAC considers it is in the public interest for it to investigate the complaint.
The IBAC Act’s objectives (s 8) are to:
a provide for the identification, investigation and exposure of:
i serious corrupt conduct,
ii police personnel misconduct;
b assist in the prevention of:
i corrupt conduct,
ii police personnel misconduct;
c facilitate the education of the public sector and the community about the detrimental effects of corrupt conduct and police personnel misconduct on public administration and the community, and the ways in which corrupt conduct and police personnel misconduct can be prevented;
d assist in improving the capacity of the public sector to prevent corrupt conduct and police personnel misconduct;
e provide for IBAC to assess police personnel conduct.
IBAC has a number of investigative powers to assist its investigations; it has the power to:
•summons any person to give evidence on oath and/or to produce documents;
•conduct examinations (generally in private);
•enter, inspect, copy and/or seize documents and other items at the premises of public authorities, including Victoria Police premises, without a warrant;
•obtain search warrants to enter, search, inspect, copy and/or seize documents or things relevant to an investigation.
If you are unhappy with an IBAC decision, you can request an internal review of its decision. An IBAC officer who is independent of the original decision-maker must conduct this review.