Coroner says NSW police should force tactical officers to wear body cameras after man shot and killed

<span>Todd McKenzie’s family and their legal team at the Lidcombe coroners court.</span><span>Photograph: Flavio Brancaleone/AAP</span>
Todd McKenzie’s family and their legal team at the Lidcombe coroners court.Photograph: Flavio Brancaleone/AAP

New South Wales police must catch up to other states and require its tactical officers to wear body-worn cameras, an inquest has recommended after examining the circumstances surrounding the death of a man who was shot by police three times.

Todd McKenzie, 40, who lived with schizophrenia, was shot by tactical police in his Taree home in 2019 after a nine-hour siege following reports he was on the street yelling and holding a knife.

NSW requires its general duty officers wear body-worn cameras but it is one of two states in Australia – the other is South Australia – that has not yet extended the requirement to special officers tasked with responding to high-risk incidents.

“This must change,” deputy state coroner Harriet Grahame wrote in the inquest’s findings. “It is clear to me that the benefits of mandating body-worn video for tactical police far outweigh any difficulties that may be caused.”

Related: Police operation in which NSW man shot dead during psychotic episode was ‘flawed’, inquest finds

In the early hours of the siege between police and McKenzie, the general-duty police officers who responded to the incident were wearing body-worn cameras.

One police officer had taunted McKenzie while he was suffering from hallucinations and delusions.

“I’ll take my gun off, come out the back and have a proper fight,” the footage recorded the police officer saying.

When tactical officers arrived, they asked the officer to turn off his body-worn camera, meaning there was no footage capturing what happened next.

Grahame said NSW had made “no real movement” when it came to requiring tactical officers wear body-worn cameras since a 2022 inquiry into the death of 17-month-old Tateolena Tauaifaga recommended the force do so. Tauaifaga was killed after she was run over by Christopher Chandler, who was being pursued in a police chase.

During the inquest, the commander of the NSW tactical officer unit listed several reasons why rolling out body-worn cameras to the unit would be difficult, including potential interference with the deployment of officers’ weapons.

He said tactical officers were not opposed to wearing body-worn cameras, but the unit was bound by the policy of NSW police not requiring them.

The commander revealed the force had been undertaking work to review the use of body-worn cameras but there was no timeframe for the review’s completion. He said until NSW police required officers to wear body-worn cameras it would not be given any particular “urgency”.

Sam Lee, a lawyer at Redfern Legal Centre, said extending body-worn cameras was crucial for greater transparency and accountability around police actions, and benefited both police and the person interacting with police.

“We’ve had clients come to us with allegations that police have acted unlawfully, then obtained the body-worn video footage and ascertained that they haven’t … it’s also really important for those cases where police may have acted unlawfully.”

Grahame found that police actions in the lead-up to McKenzie’s death were “flawed in a number of significant respects”, with a lack of mental health response training for police partly responsible for the issue.

The inquest revealed it had been nine years since most police officers had received mental health training outside the academy. In 2015, a one-day workshop was delivered to all officers.

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There was an additional four-day course offered from 2008 to 2019 but only 2,500 officers completed the course which was discontinued in 2019. New training is flagged to be rolled out this year and the inquest recommended it be reviewed and audited after two years.

“I accept that they had a tactical role to perform and had no particular experience or training in dealing with mentally unwell persons,” Grahame wrote.

McKenzie’s aunt Margarette Hill is urging NSW police to make video and audio recordings mandatory for tactical officers.

“If we had body-worn cameras, the family would know and the court would know exactly what happened,” she said.

“It’s really important to have that out there and have people questioning it. That would save not only the amount of anguish and pain the family’s gone through but …. taxpayers’ money.”