Rights Issues Involving The Victorian Police

Victor Perton

Continued from a paper: Parliamentary Protection of Rights in Victoria

I wish to briefly discuss rights issues in Victoria insofar as they relate to police conduct. In any society, there will be times when the police or authorities will act in a way which infringes the rights of citizens. As the President of the International Commission of Jurists, Mr Justice Michael Kirby, has said recently, the test of a society is the way in which it responds to these matters. A society concerned with the protection of civil rights must ensure that such infringements must be investigated and steps must be taken to ensure that appropriate compensation is made and that steps are taken to try to prevent such things happening again.

In Victoria, primary responsibility for regulating the police falls to the Police Commissioner who acts through an internal investigations branch. Although this body generally acts well, there is the natural suspicion that it's Ceaser investigating Ceaser.

An additional safeguard is in the office of the Ombudsman. By way of background the Office of the Ombudsman was established under the Ombudsman Act 1973. The function of the Ombudsman is to investigate complaints concerning administrative actions taken in Government departments, Statutory bodies or by Officers and employees of municipal councils. The Deputy Ombudsman (Police Complaints) receives complaints made by the public against members of the police force, investigates complaints and oversees and monitors the investigation by police of complaints.

Police Conduct in Victoria

In 1994 there was great public outrage over three matters. They involved three matters: fatal police shootings in confrontations generally involving the mentally ill; police conduct at a demonstration at the Richmond school site (where a suburban High School was being converted to a state girls' school); and, the Tasty Nightclub raid when police raided a gay nightclub and stripsearched almost all patrons in a search for drugs.

In my view, Victoria passes the test set by Mr Justice Kirby. Not only has the Ombudsman reported, but the entire police force is to be retrained to try to ensure that the problems do not-re-occur. Such measures provide some evidence for the proposition that there is some effective protection of rights in existence. Let me look at these matters in greater detail.

Reviews of Police Shootings

Following fatal shootings over several years, the Government and the Victoria Police arranged four different reviews of police shootings. These reviews have been completed and the Victoria Police have set up new operational procedures which stress the safety of police members, of members of the public, and of offenders or suspects.

Project Beacon was set up under Assistant Commissioner Ray Shuey to provide a revised set of training and operating principles for every police member and to develop Force policies. This reflects a refocussing of police attitudes to the current Victoria Police standard that `the success of an operation will be primarily judged by the extent to which the use of force is avoided or minimised.'


Over a period of six months all operational police who need to carry firearms will be retrained. The five-day Operational Safety and Tactics Training Course of five days includes assessing the risks involved in a situation, deciding how to manage these risks, and using conflict resolution skills and defensive tactics to manage the situation. Trainees are assessed in the areas of theory, attitude and the use of defensive tactics and firearms; at the end of the training only qualified and trained members will be permitted to carry a firearm. Further training will be given to these police every six months.

The high level of financial and staff resources committed to this training by the Victoria Police is a measure of the Government's commitment to this project.

In situations where offenders and suspects are armed or suspected of being armed and on conducting forced entry searches, police will, as far as possible, give a high priority to a planned "cordon and containment" approach where the potential for violent confrontations is high.

In authorising the issue of warrants for forced entry searches, police officers now must be satisfied that a thorough risk assessment has been conducted to determine whether the offender of suspect is likely to be armed, the safest option for action is chosen, and the execution of the warrant is properly planned with due regard to the safety of all involved.


A Task Force composed of Frank Honan, an independent and impartial Chair, Dame Margaret Guilfoyle as an eminent person who represents community interests, and Bruce Swanton, a Criminologist who was the Project Director of Task Force was established to monitor the implementation of various recommendations on police shootings. Most of the recommendations have been implemented. Every operational member has participated in training on how to manage and handle persons either known to be mentally ill or whose behaviour would lead an average person to believe that the person was mentally ill. The training was designed after input from the Department of Health and Community Services and from consultants. This training was fully implemented in the first half of last year. Additional training is provided on an ongoing basis, that is ‘as required'. These initiatives have been seen by the Training Department of Victoria Police as resulting in a change in the general attitude of operational members so that they will be more gentle in their handling of these sensitive matters.

The Protocol for use by police and Psychiatric Services staff in their dealings with mentally ill was finalised and published in September 1995.

These new initiatives aim to ensure there is a proper balance between the rights of community safety and the need to avoid violence where possible. Police have recently resolved several difficult and potentially dangerous situations peacefully.

Deputy Ombudsman's Report on Richmond and East Melbourne Demonstrations

Following a baton charge which was televised around the world, the government and the deputy ombudsman had implemented enquiries.

Before the Deputy Ombudsman's Report on the Richmond and East Melbourne demonstrations had been tabled in Parliament, the Victoria Police had already implemented a review of the techniques used in crowd control and at demonstrations. These changes included:

Commerce Club - The Tasty Nightclub

As Mr Justice Kirby said on this matter, an encouraging aspect was the condemnation the next day, not only by the President of the Council for Civil Liberties, but the Premier himself.

Following the Deputy Ombudsman's Report on the Commerce Club raid which found wrongful conduct on the part of some of the police, the Victoria Police has prepared revised and radically changed instructions for searching people. These instructions were prepared following consultation with a number of community groups including the respresentatives of the gay community. They include detailed instructions to ensure the respect, dignity and privacy of the individual.

Conclusion to this section:

Victoria, like the rest of the country, must continue to assess itself and the conduct of its officials against the most stringent human rights standards. It must be open to outside scrutiny. The examples I have given demonstrate a sensitivity to doing the right thing! From the Premier down there is an instinctive support for civil rights which is common across the nation.

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updated 13 May 1996
Victor Perton