Independent investigations of police related deaths

When the police shoot someone, the resulting investigation should be independent of the police force, according to two of Australia’s leading human rights organisations. 

Public Interest Advocacy Centre chief executive officer, Edward Santow, said last night’s Four Corners program about the police shooting of Adam Salter highlights the need for independent investigators to assist Coroners when the police are involved in someone’s death. 

‘The current practice of leaving the police to investigate themselves must be changed. The Salter Inquest was by no means the first time Coroners have questioned the quality and independence of police investigation of police related deaths,’ Mr Santow said. 

Mr Santow said public confidence in investigations into police shootings and deaths in custody could only be maintained by ensuring those investigations are independent. 

‘Police cannot effectively investigate themselves. Australia needs an independent body to investigate any death where there’s an allegation of police involvement, or where the death occurred in custody,” Mr Santow said. 

The Human Rights Law Centre’s (HRLC) director of strategic litigation, Anna Brown, agrees. 

‘Imagine the outcry if employers were left with the responsibility for investigating deaths in their own workplace. The risks of corruption and collusion would be real, the investigations would lack transparency and legitimacy and there would be a decline in accountability,’ Ms Brown said. 

Human rights law and international best practice require that such investigations be conducted by a body that is fully independent of police. 

‘If we are serious about transparency and accountability, we need to ensure that these principles are upheld when our citizens are injured or killed by police,’ Ms Brown said. 

Independent investigations already take place in Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. Recently, in Queensland, the Queensland Misconduct Commission was been given primary responsibility for investigation of deaths in custody. 

The HRLC, which was party to the Coronial inquest into the 2008 police shooting of Victorian teenager, Tyler Cassidy, has called for a new approach to police training so that it better equips police officers to deal with people with mental health issues. 

‘We need to invest in equipping police to manage conflict through non-violent means. Police must be better supported and trained to engage with vulnerable people, including young people and people with mental illness,’ Ms Brown said.

Further comment, please contact: HRLC director of strategic litigation, Anna Brown on 0422 235 522

PIAC senior media adviser, Dominic O’Grady on 0400 110 169

View the Four Corner’s program, Closing Ranks

Related coverage: Police shooting highlights need for independent body, Razor’s Edge, 2SER

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