Under both the State and Federal Ombudsman Acts the Ombudsman has power to deal with complaints made by citizens against police and by prisoners against the prison authorities.

People who believe they have been treated unfairly by the police should be aware that they are entitled to make a complaint and should not be afraid to exercise their right to do so. They should be aware that any delay in making a complaint will make it more difficult to investigate.

Some complaints against police are of a minor nature and referred to as customer service issues. These matters may be easily reconciled. An interview of the complainant by a more senior police officer may be sufficient to resolve the matter. The Ombudsman can check with the complainant that they are happy with the outcome if this course of action is taken.

Internal Investigation

The majority of more serious cases are referred in the first instance to Police Internal Investigations. This is a body within the police service which police consider to be independent. Complainants are advised that they may subsequently take the matter up with the Ombudsman if they are dissatisfied with Internal Investigation’s findings. It is rare for the Ombudsman to conduct the final investigation.

How to make a Complaint

Complaints can be made in writing or by word of mouth. In this case a Police Internal Investigations officer will take a written statement or conduct an audio interview with the person making the complaint and any witness they have. However, it may be better to get legal advice and make a complaint in writing. The Police Internal Investigations officer should be invited to interview witnesses and advised if a medical report is being prepared.

Where physical mistreatment is alleged to have occurred, the person should go to a doctor as soon as possible and obtain a written report. A detailed description of the actions which caused the injury should be given to the doctor so that the doctor can say whether or not the injury is consistent with that account. The report can be forwarded later.

What Happens Once the Investigation is Completed?

When the internal investigation has been completed, the Commissioner of Police or a delegate (usually the Deputy Commissioner) reviews the internal investigation and finds either that:

  • the complaint is unsubstantiated and no further action is warranted; or
  • a criminal charge should be laid against a police officer; or
  • disciplinary proceedings should be commenced; or
  • the police officer should be counselled or cautioned regarding the conduct.
  • The complainant will be advised of the outcome.

Review by the Ombudsman

Generally speaking, complainants are required to take their complaint direct to the police first for II investigation. If complainants remain dissatisfied after this internal investigation then the Ombudsman will review that investigation to ensure it has been carried out correctly. When the Ombudsman reviews a complaint that has already been investigated by II, or some other police officer on their behalf, it is not the Ombudsman’s role to carry out the police task of investigating crime and offences and reinterviewing all the witnesses. If the Ombudsman is satisfied that a complaint has been properly investigated, then it will not go any further. It is only if a review of the Police Internal Investigation shows a deficiency in the investigative process that the Ombudsman will take the matter further.

Once the Ombudsman has reviewed a matter, one of the following decisions may be made:

  • seek further investigation and review by the police;
  • find the complaint sustained;
  • find the complaint not sustained;
  • find that because of conflicting evidence, it is not possible to be satisfied one way or the other whether the complaint is sustained;
  • decline to take the matter further because court action is pending; or
  • conduct a separate investigation.

The Ombudsman has broad powers to re-investigate a complaint against the police. Documents must be made available and individuals can be required to answer questions. There is also power to conduct a formal hearing and a police officer, the complainant or any independent witness can be questioned on oath.

In certain circumstances the Ombudsman will investigate complaints without requiring them to be investigated by the police first. This is a matter for the discretion of the Ombudsman.

The Ombudsman does not give legal advice. Complaints about penalty notices and most complaints about being charged by police will not be investigated by the Ombudsman. It is the Court’s role to decide the facts in these cases.

Normally, the Ombudsman will not commence an investigation into any administrative action where more than two years has elapsed since the action was alleged to have taken place.

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