Who polices the police?
The royal commission findings, while focused on the relationship between one informant and Victoria Police, brings into sharp focus the broader issues of police accountability and police culture.
The system for investigating police misconduct, corruption and criminality in Victoria is hopelessly flawed. As it stands, 98% of such cases are investigated by police.
The Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC) lacks the resources to carry out investigations in most cases and is hamstrung when it does. IBAC considered the Gobbo case in 2015, then sent it back to Victoria Police for investigation. The police showed little interest in probing further.
Read more: Expanding Victoria's police powers without robust, independent oversight is a dangerous idea
It is worth noting that Gobbo acted as an informant for years before it was revealed publicly. According to the royal commission, more than 100 people within Victoria Police knew about Gobbo, but none raised concerns with the internal Ethical Standards Department or with IBAC.
Police investigating themselves always raises issues of conflict of interest. But this is even more pronounced when a matter involves senior police, or former police commissioners, as in the Gobbo case.
The chair of the royal commission, Margaret McMurdo, has decided not to name any current or former police implicated in criminal conduct, so as not to prejudice future legal proceedings.
In 2018, a joint parliamentary inquiry report into how claims of police misconduct are investigated made 69 recommendations for reforming police oversight in the state. These included better resourcing for IBAC, and that it, rather than police, investigate all cases of serious misconduct.
More than two years since that report was released, the government has not implemented its recommendations.
Police oversight in other countries
Covert operations have long been recognised as providing fertile ground for police corruption and criminality.
Northern Ireland is a telling case. During the decades of the “Troubles” through to the peace process at the turn of the millennium, the covert arm of policing, Special Branch, acted as a force within a force. Some police engaged in and facilitated criminality, including murder.
Read more: Northern Ireland's police transformation may hold lessons for the US
Radical reforms were made as part of the peace process through the Police Ombudsman Northern Ireland, which was established to provide independent oversight of policing, including their use of covert investigatory powers.
As such, Northern Ireland’s police accountability system is now widely recognised as the gold standard.
The UK’s Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act also provides a basis for increased control of police human intelligence sources, including intense frontline supervision of officers, clear internal guidelines, and authorisation procedures, performance management and integrity testing of officers.
In addition, the Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s Office provides independent oversight of police and other public authorities’ investigatory powers, including the use of human sources.
The Victoria royal commission specifically made reference to the role of the UK’s Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s Office and the UK law, but did not specifically recommend them as models for Victoria, instead urging consultation with stakeholders to develop a legislative framework.
When the ends do not justify the means
The commission found evidence of “systemic failure in Victoria Police” and
Even after the High Court blasted the Victoria Police for “reprehensible conduct” in 2018, its former chief commissioner, Graham Ashton, continued to defend the police’s actions in the media, on the basis of getting results in the “gangland wars”.
This “ends justifies the means” rationale, often referred to as “noble cause” corruption, belies an above-the-law mentality. Much evidence was put forth at the royal commission to suggest that Victoria Police rejected or set out to thwart or co-opt systems designed to deliver independent scrutiny.
The royal commission findings suggest a change of culture within Victoria Police is urgently required. AAP/Tracey Nearmy
There have been a series of reviews and inquiries into Victoria Police over the past two decades. They have pointed to deficiencies in its management of informants, along with broader issues related to culture and leadership. Despite this, the royal commission findings reflect many of the same issues.
The commission maintains it is “encouraging” that the new chief commissioner of Victoria Police, Shane Patton, has stated publicly the police will heed the recommendations of the inquiry.
If things are to substantially change, however, reforms need to extend beyond these recommendations.
The recommendations of the 2018 parliamentary inquiry also need to be implemented to ensure that in all cases of serious misconduct, police are investigated by an independent body that has sufficient resources and powers to carry out such investigations effectively.
Nicola actually comes from a well connected legal family.
Her father was Sir James Gobbo,former governor of Victoria.
He also was a supreme Court judge.
You know what they state most cops are nearly as stupid as the crooks they are chasing,that's why the few bright ones stand out.
As for ICAC's both the cops and our politicians are trying to dismantle them.
Our current deputy PM likened them to the Spanish inquisition
Our PM went to the polls promising an integrity commission.
Over 3 years later we are still waiting