Victoria police team involved in violent arrests will put public at risk if not overhauled, Ibac says

<span>Photograph: James Ross/AAP</span>
Photograph: James Ross/AAP

A highly trained Victoria police team involved in a series of violent arrests could continue to put the public at risk unless it is overhauled, the state’s corruption watchdog has said.

The Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (Ibac) said in a report on Tuesday that misconduct risks relating to the critical incident response team (Cirt) remained, despite previous investigations.

The team of about 185 officers respond to high-risk incidents that are beyond the skills of general duties police but do not meet the criteria for the deployment of the elite special operations group.

In the past five years, Cirt officers have been involved in the shooting of a man and a woman at a swingers party, the serious injury of man during a wrongful arrest at an LGBTQ+ bookshop, and driving a police car into a mentally ill man and kicking him in the head outside a hospital.

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Two officers from the team were recently cleared of criminal charges in relation to separate incidents, including when a man’s jaw was broken after he was mistakenly arrested after a police pursuit, and another when an officer allegedly kicked at the head of an arrested person while they were sitting down and compliant.

The Ibac report also reveals that three Cirt team members were involved in an incident when one of the officers threatened and intimidated the ex-partner of a relative.

In response to the report, Victoria police said it was implementing a new use of force database, which it expected would be operational by next year.

Ibac found Cirt officers failed to properly record when they had used force, such as when none of the officers who drew their weapons or activated their Tasers during the bookshop raid recorded the actions on use of force forms, in breach of Victoria police policy.

Ibac made six recommendations, half of which related to the database, including that Victoria police should inform it within six months on how the new system would improve the accuracy of such reports and be used to identify trends.

Within a year, Ibac said Victoria police should report to it about how the database had overcome the risk of inaccurate or incomplete use of force reporting, and consult other police forces to identify barriers and risks to accurate reporting.

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Ibac also recommended that Victoria police strengthen Cirt’s methods for assessing operational risk, clarify the roles and responsibilities of Cirt officers and general duties officers when the team attends incidents, and diversify Cirt’s leadership and members, given more than 90% of its officers are men.

“Cirt officers are responsible for responding to high-risk incidents, often involving people experiencing crisis,” the report found.

“Given the difficult nature of this work, it is important that Victoria police trains, equips, supervises and supports its officers appropriately.

“Victoria police must build on the work it has already done to further mitigate any risk of misconduct by Cirt.”

Jeremy King, a Robinson Gill lawyer who has represented several people who were injured in incidents involving Cirt, said that the report highlighted the need for an overhaul of the state’s police oversight model.

He said that he had recently reported Ibac to the Victorian Inspectorate after the watchdog failed to reinvestigate the bookshop raid, despite King telling them new evidence had come to light regarding the incident during a civil court case against the officers which resulted in a confidential settlement earlier this year.

A Victoria Police spokesperson said the force was considering Ibac’s recommendations.

“Each of the historic IBAC investigations mentioned in the report have been subject to previous recommendations which Victoria Police accepted.

“As many in the community would be aware the Critical Incident Response Team operates in a complex environment that involves significant risk to the public, other police and CIRT members.

“Victoria Police has commenced work to procure a new use-of-force database which will improve accountability across Victoria Police and last year provided mandatory training for all frontline police about how and when use of force should be reported.”