Police and policing

Police powers should be exercised in aid of the rule of law. Persons granted power sometimes abuse it and police are no exception. Since the police exercise significant powers, it is essential for the protection of human rights in Victoria that proper oversight of the police – both through the courts and through mechanisms to investigate police conduct – is maintained. Violence by police against members of the public has the potential to unravel the fabric of the community. Sometimes such violence is unavoidable or justifiable. However, Victoria has an ongoing problem with fatal police shootings, with more deaths than all other states put together. Capsicum spray and TASER guns have both been fatal when used against citizens, and have a very limited application. It is a false alternative to assert that it is a choice between firearms and capsicum or TASERs. Usually, capsicum spray and TASERs are used not instead of firearms, but where lethal violence could not be justified. The use of violence in self-defence, or in defence of others is justifiable if the response is proportionate. However, the use of capsicum spray or TASER guns to coerce compliance to a desired course of behaviour from citizens is likely to amount to torture or cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment [LINK]. Police conduct has at times targeted:

  • particular ethnic minorities,
  • persons of particular sexual orientation, or
  • persons, such as environmentalists, with particular political views.

Preventing such discriminatory abuse of police powers requires systematic work from police command. Police have several excellent practices, such as the “caution” system for disposing of first time offenders. So far as possible such discretionary systems should be transparently regulated so that their application is not subject to the whim of the particular officer concerned. Government should avoid bypassing police command to deal directly with police unions such as the Police Association, because such connections undermine proper police command structure and have been shown to increase the likelihood of corruption.