: Research into the NSW police complaint system

Research into the NSW police complaint system

Roxana Zulfacar, Gayatri Nair and Jane Goodman-Delahunty
New South Wales

New research has explored experiences and perceptions held by legal practitioners and community workers in relation to the NSW Police Force (‘NSWPF’) complaint system. The research, conducted by way of an online and anonymous survey, was a joint project between Charles Sturt University and Community Legal Centres NSW (‘CLCNSW’). The study explored the level of knowledge about complaint options, experiences and levels of satisfaction with the process and outcomes when assisting a client to make a formal complaint, and reasons expressed by clients who did not pursue complaints.

This research was motivated by observations of legal practitioners representing disadvantaged clients, who reported they avoided the complaints process, and were dissatisfied with the outcome when it was used. The NSWPF implemented the current complaint process on the recommendation of the 1997 Royal Commission into the New South Wales Police Service.

The survey was completed by 378 client advocates and legal representatives, and a research team from Charles Sturt University’s Australian Graduate School of Policing and Security analysed the results. Key findings included:

  • Awareness of the ability to lodge a formal complaint was high, but many barriers to complaining were reported;
  • 89% of participants thought that without professional assistance, lay citizens would find it difficult to make a complaint;
  • Time taken from lodgment to finalisation of complaints ranged between 1 to 18 months;
  • Participants reported widespread dissatisfaction with the process (76%) and outcomes (75%);
  • Overall perception that the NSWPF does not apply the law in an even-handed manner, treats members of certain vulnerable groups more harshly than others, and displays low levels of integrity in relation to excusing or covering up misconduct by other police officers;
  • Participants with recent experience of the complaint process perceived complaint-handlers lacked independence, and did not take complaints seriously.

Accountability, transparency and the ability to engage in a fair, independent complaints process are important human rights principles. The survey findings identified perceived shortcomings of our current police complaints system, and provided a basis for recommendations and reform.

You can read more about the research on CLCNSW’s website here: http://www.clcnsw.org.au/cb_pages/police_complaints_survey_findings.php

Independent of the joint research project, CLCNSW has developed recommendations for reform of the police complaint system, available at: http://www.clcnsw.org.au/cb_pages/RecommendationsforReform.php

ROXANA ZULFACAR is the Advocacy & Human Rights Officer, Community Legal Centres NSW, assisted by

GAYATRI NAIR. JANE GOODMAN-DELAHUNTY is a Research Professor at Charles Sturt University in the School of Psychology and the Australian Graduate School of Policing and Security.

(2013) 38(1) AltLJ 57
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