Office of Police Integrity
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The Office of Police Integrity (OPI) is a Victorian independent police oversight and anti-corruption agency established by the Victorian Government in November 2004. OPI's official role is to ensure that the highest ethical and professional standards are maintained in Victoria Police, to detect, investigate and prevent police corruption and serious misconduct and to ensure that police members have regard to the human rights set out in the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities.
OPI reports direct to the Victorian Parliament.
Prior to 2004, criminal investigations in Victoria had exposed alleged links between the underworld and police. OPI was established in response to a widespread concern within the Victorian community about the integrity of its police and the effectiveness of arrangements for oversight and review of police conduct.
Prior to this, the police complaints function belonged with the Ombudsman but it was limited to monitoring and reviewing complaint investigations conducted by police. Only in very limited circumstances could the Ombudsman investigate those complaints himself. The legislation creating the new Office of Police Integrity importantly gave the Director the power to conduct own motion investigations.
The office has conducted a large number of investigations, some of which have included public hearings or have resulted in parliamentary reports. The office has also made a substantial contribution to various policy reforms and updates in order to support the ethical health of Victoria Police.
OPI performs its oversight function by reviewing police policies and procedures and making recommendations to reform and improve these. Often these recommendations will take into account knowledge gained from an OPI investigation into corrupt or improper police behaviour. Sometimes OPI will conduct a larger scale review of an important police system, such as its reviews of the Discipline System and the Management Intervention Model, both of which are Victoria Police's key performance management systems.
OPI also undertakes educational activities and programs to promote and support professional and ethical behaviour in Victoria Police members. Unfortunately it has been more frequently used to cover up the misbehaviour of Victorian police.
Inefficiency in dealing with Victoria Police corruption
In early 2007, Don Stewart, a retired Supreme Court judge, called for a Royal Commission into Victorian police corruption. Stewart alleged that the force is riddled with corruption that the Office of Police Integrity was unable to deal with.
OPI has substantial investigative capabilities. These include phone tapping powers and specialist high tech and covert investigation methods. Investigations will sometimes be conducted jointly with the Ethical Standards Department of Victoria Police. OPI investigators come from a wide variety of backgrounds and have experience with overseas, interstate and federal police forces.
OPI investigations have been undertaken for matters ranging from improper relationships, drugs and police and informer management.
The Special Investigations Monitor oversees responsible and correct use of certain OPI powers, including the exercise of its coercive powers.
From the late 1970s commissions of inquiry throughout Australia identified that traditional law enforcement methods were inadequate to address sustained action against either organised crime or corruption. Since then, specialist independently statutory bodies, such as the OPI, have emerged in most states. It is important to note that OPI and other like agencies have non-traditional powers derived from a convergence of legal processes adopted from both inquisitorial and adversarial systems.
There are important public policy reasons for conducting hearings in public. A hearing in public is guarantee of transparency because the public can scrutinise the activities of the relevant body.
The public airing of evidence is an important consideration as police corruption has a direct effect on society. There are three basic factors weighed up by the Director in deciding whether to hold a hearing in public. They are whether:
- an investigation is likely to be advanced by conducting public hearings because they encourage people to provide information to the OPI;
- public ventilation of evidence may have a deterrent effect on police corruption and misconduct by making those responsible publicly accountable and by demonstrating that such conduct will be detected, investigated and hopefully prevented; and
- a public hearing will expose police corruption and misconduct, educate the public in the nature, extent and causes of such corruption and misconduct, and highlight the need for reforms to address the problem.
OPI has conducted three public hearings to date, two of which gained a great amount of media and public attention.
In September 2006, an investigation into physical assault by members of the Armed Offenders Squad (now disbanded) culminated in a public hearing. During the hearing, covertly recorded material of the actual incident was played. members were shown to have committed perjury. This hearing generated strong public debate, with both supportive and critical commentary.
The most recent public hearing, held in November 2007, involved matters relating to misconduct in public office, propensity of police witnesses to lie on oath, information leaks and attempts to pervert the course of justice. The OPI investigation that resulted in the hearing involved, amongst others, Victoria Police Assistant Commissioner Noel Ashby (now resigned), Victoria Police Media Director Steve Linnell (now resigned) and Police Association Secretary, Paul Mullett (now suspended). The public interest was immense and media outlets Australia-wide reported the hearing.
Corruption Prevention & Education
In addition to detecting, investigating and exposing serious misconduct or corruption, part of OPI's mandate is to understand the underlying causes of this sort of conduct. This can result in measures that will prevent it from occurring again.
OPI has a dedicated corruption, prevention and education unit. One of the key tasks of the unit is to identify areas of policing or policing systems that are susceptible to the development of corrupt, unethical or unprofessional behaviour. Having identified problem areas, the unit then scopes solutions from within Victoria Police or other jurisdictions that will strengthen systems, improve ethical and professional standards and reduce the vulnerability of Victoria Police to corruption or serious misconduct.
To engage with rank and file police, the unit conducts information sessions in metropolitan and rural regions. The sessions aim to give police accurate information about OPI and inform them of their rights and responsibilities in the event of an OPI investigation.
Victorian Integrity and Anti-Corruption Commission
- A Fair and Effective Victoria Police Discipline System (Oct 2007)
- Ceja Task Force - Drug Related Corruption (Jul 2007)
- Conditions for persons in custody (Jul 2006)
- Exposing corruption within senior levels of Victoria Police (Feb 2008)
- Investigation into the publication of One Down, One Missing (Sep 2005)
- Investigation into the Victoria Police's Management of the Law Enforcement Assistance Program (LEAP) (Mar 2005)
- Past Patterns, Future Directions: Victoria Police and the problem of corruption and serious misconduct (Feb 2007)
- Report on the 'Kit Walker' investigations (Dec 2007)
- Report on the Leak of a Sensitive Victoria Police Information Report (Feb 2005)
- Review of fatal shootings by Victoria Police (Nov 2005)
- Review of the Victoria Police Witness Protection Program (Jul 2005)