A review into how NSW Police investigate officers involved in serious incidents may have repercussions for officers involved in the alleged mistreatment of Sydney Mardi Gras revellers at this year’s parade.
NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell announced the move in state Parliament last week, with former federal Labor attorney-general Robert McClelland to head the review and investigate whether improvements can be made to the oversight of incidents. It is expected McClelland will report back by November.
Currently, the majority of critical incidents involving the police are investigated internally by police themselves, with no further action taken in most instances. The most controversial incidents, however, come under the scrutiny of one of a number of oversight bodies including the Ombudsman, the Coroner and the Police Integrity Commission (PIC). On some occasions all three bodies may conduct an investigation, but often only when a matter is referred to them, sometimes weeks or months after the event.
Two incidents arising soon after this year’s Mardi Gras parade are being investigated by the police Professional Standards Command, under the banner of Strike Force Marla, with oversight from the Ombudsman. The Star Observer understands the incidents in question involve 18-year-old Jamie Jackson Reed, who was allegedly head-slammed while handcuffed, and rights activist Bryn Hutchison, who claims he was set upon by a group of officers after trying to cross Oxford Street soon after the main parade had ended.
O’Farrell told Parliament that despite the review he would not be leading calls for a truly independent system of oversight, while noting that two recently released reports raised a number of serious concerns with the response by police.
“The NSW government believes it’s important police continue to investigate critical incidents because they have the unique skills and expertise to look into these matters,” O’Farrell said.
“Two recent reports, the Police Integrity Commission’s Operation Calyx and the Ombudsman’s investigation into the death of Roberto Laudisio-Curti, have raised concerns with critical incident investigations and made recommendations to change the system.”
The PIC’s Operation Calyx recommended that criminal charges should be considered against four NSW police officers in relation to the fatal 2009 shooting of a mentally ill Sydney man, Adam Salter.
An Ombudsman investigation recommended the consideration of charges against officers involved in the death of Brazilian student Laudisio-Curti, who died after being tased multiple times in Sydney’s CBD last March while in a panicked state after taking a small amount of LSD.
NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby policy officer Jed Horner said while an announcement of a review was a good start the NSW Government could also being doing more to achieve greater accountability.
“The Government has stated that critical incident investigation will continue to be handled by police themselves,” he said. “Full transparency will not be achieved until a truly independent body is set up to investigate critical incidents, as happens in other jurisdictions including the UK and New Zealand.”
Greens MLC David Shoebridge, who has long campaigned for a review into how police investigate critical incidents and complaints, said the current system did not work and that there was widespread dissatisfaction amongst the public.
“The failings are most obvious in the police handling of critical incidents where flawed internal investigations consistently vindicate police actions, even in the face of substantial evidence to the contrary,” Shoebridge said.
“The flaws of the system were recently highlighted following the deaths of Adam Salter and Roberto Curti with subsequent investigations demonstrating the inherent flaws of a system where police investigate police.”
The Star Observer understands that more than 100 complaints about police behaviour at this year’s Mardi Gras have been made. It is believed that none of the officers involved in either of the two Mardi Gras incidents under investigation by the Professional Standards Command are yet to be questioned.