IBAC investigation exposes serious police misconduct and missed opportunities to address systemic problems at Ballarat police station
An investigation by IBAC, Victoria’s anti-corruption commission, has revealed serious police misconduct at Ballarat police station, and missed opportunities to deal with ongoing, systemic issues at the station by Victoria Police.
IBAC’s special report on Operation Ross, tabled before Parliament today, reports on IBAC’s investigation into alleged excessive use of force against several people at the Ballarat police station. IBAC also reviewed Victoria Police data, including the over-representation of sergeants in complaints, which indicated that there had been long-standing cause for concern about Ballarat police station.
In March 2015, IBAC received CCTV footage from Victoria Police showing the alleged mistreatment of a woman in custody in the cells of the Ballarat police station in January 2015. The woman, who had been arrested for public drunkenness, was later revealed to be a serving police officer on leave for medical reasons.
Operation Ross exposed serious deficiencies in the way this particular incident was handled, as well as concerns about the duty of care afforded to other vulnerable people at the police station. The investigation examined the response of senior police managers and Victoria Police Professional Standards Command to these incidents, and to evidence of broader concerns at the Ballarat police station.
IBAC Commissioner Mr Stephen O’Bryan QC said: “IBAC’s Operation Ross exposed the concerning casual disregard and at times alarming mistreatment of a vulnerable woman in Ballarat police custody that was captured on CCTV. Importantly, Operation Ross also revealed broader systemic issues and missed opportunities by Victoria Police to address similar patterns of conduct at the station.”
The investigation found serious shortcomings in Victoria Police policies and practices including oversight regarding promotions, interventions when an officer has multiple complaints, and compliance with the strip search policy and the Charter of Human Rights.
IBAC has made recommendations to Victoria Police to address these issues, and also recommended that Victoria Police consider whether charges should be brought in relation to the January 2015 incident.
“It is unfortunate the issues raised by complaints and evident in Victoria Police’s own data and reports, appear to have been not been recognised and addressed in a timely and targeted manner by Victoria Police,” Mr O’Bryan said.
“Police perform a vital function serving the community and the law to ensure a safe, secure and orderly society. The community rightly expects police officers to perform their duties and exercise their significant powers fairly, impartially and in accordance with the law. Unfortunately, Operation Ross found instances where this did not occur,” Mr O’Bryan said.
While beyond the scope of Operation Ross, IBAC’s report also notes a potential area of law reform for the Victorian Government to consider- the decriminalisation of public drunkenness.
As part of IBAC’s investigation, public hearings were held at Ballarat Law Courts in May 2016.
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