Victoria Police must reform training and tactics on use of force

Philip Lynch
Victoria

It is clear that Victoria Police must take a new approach to handling confrontation with people in mental health crisis following the release of the findings of the coronial inquest into the 2008 police shooting of Melbourne teenager Tyler Cassidy. The Coroner called for ‘urgent’ reform of police training to ‘safely manage vulnerable youth and people in crisis’.

According to Anna Brown of the Human Rights Law Centre, which was granted leave to be an interested party in the proceedings, ‘Tyler may have been highly agitated and distressed, but police protocols and training should provide officers with the ability to safely deal with a wide range of circumstances without resorting to lethal force.’

It is clear that situations do arise where police may need to use force, but it should only be used with the utmost restraint and in a manner which minimises damage and injury. Force should only be used to safeguard life and property, not for behavioural or compliance purposes. The Coroner found that only 73 seconds elapsed between the police first approaching Tyler and him being shot dead. In this short time, Tyler was sprayed with capsicum foam twice, took a phone call and was shot at 10 times, sustaining five direct hits.

The Coroner’s findings also highlighted the inadequacy of current systems for the investigation of police related deaths, which involve police investigating police.

Human rights law and international best practice require that such investigations be conducted by a body that is fully independent of police. An independent investigative body would not only reduce the risk of collusion or corruption, but increase public trust and confidence in police processes.

PHIL LYNCH is Executive Director of the Human Rights 
Law Centre.

(2012) 37(1) AltLJ 65
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