AN external investigation into the NSW Police Force’s handling of a spate of alleged homophobic crimes in the 1980s and 1990s is one step closer with NSW Premier Mike Baird today committing the government to review the state’s police oversight system.
However, a Sydney resident who believes he was the victim of an assault perpetrated by officers in the late 1990s has said any new complaints body must be independent to avoid police investigating police.
“We trust the police with protecting public safety and upholding the rule of law, and they do an outstanding job,” he said.
“However, the current system for reviewing complaints against police officers is complex and unsatisfactory, with overlapping responsibilities, duplication and a lack of clarity over responsibility for police oversight.”
The Premier said if the government was re-elected, a review would look at options for establishing a single civilian oversight model for police potentially based on the UK’s Independent Police Complaints Commission.
The actions of the NSW Police are currently overseen by a number of bodies including the Police Integrity Commission and the Ombudsman but these have been criticised for not being fully independent, having limited powers and lacking teeth.
Alan Rosendale, who alleges that police covered up a serious assault he received outside a known Surry Hill beat in 1989 that potentially involved officers from the force, said he looked forward to a system that could lead to answers.
However, talking to the Star Observer, Rosendale said it was vital any new watchdog be entirely separate from the force.
“Someone from outside the force who is independent and able to make real and proper investigations is sorely needed,” he said.
“If anything can shed some light and factual explanation into what happened to me and others in the ‘80s and ‘90s it would be very much welcomed.”
Sydney state independent MP Sydney Alex Greenwich backed Rosendale’s call for an independent complaints commission: “This is indeed an encouraging sign for the government but the devil will be in the detail to ensure the oversight body is robust and independent of the police.”
Meanwhile Coogee state Liberal MP Bruce Notley-Smith said the announcement was good news and should be based on the UK model.
Earlier this month, Labor upper house MP and prospective candidate for Newtown Penny Sharpe joined Notley-Smith and Greenwich — as well as representatives from the Greens and Nationals – to receive a petition from LGBTI community groups that stated police should no longer investigate their own conduct.
Sharpe said Labor welcomed any move on introducing an independent body: “It’s clear all sides of politics are looking to progress this… and after the election we’d want to see what happens next”.
A chorus of LGBTI community groups, including the NSW Gay and Lesbian Right Lobby (GLRL), Inner City Legal Centre, ACON and Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, also threw their weight behind a new watchdog.
GLRL co-convener Justin Koonin said: “It will benefit the community, and it will also benefit NSW Police, since transparency in police processes will improve public confidence”.
Koonin said investigations could also take place into allegations of heavy handed police at 2013’s Mardi Gras as well as ongoing concerns over the use of drug dogs and search procedures at parties.
The police have been contacted for comment. However, earlier this month a spokesperson told the Star Observer calls for more oversight of the force were a matter for state parliament and NSW Police were committed to providing a safe and secure environment for the LGBTI and wider community.