By Sonia Hickey and Ugur Nedim
The revelations that Victorian police officers who systematically reported fake breath tests will not face disciplinary action is further evidence that officers are being permitted to engage in misconduct without repercussions.
The story so far
An investigation revealed that in the past five years, Victorian police officers faked 258,000 preliminary roadside breath tests (PBTs). And recent reports suggest the actual figure could be four times that many.
Victoria Police says it first became aware of the falsified test results last year, after the Victoria’s Transport Accident Commission (TAC) detected anomalies in police statistics.
After a lengthy assessment of five years’ worth of data, the investigation concluded that 258,463 PBTs had been falsified.
The investigation found that officers had faked the tests by either placing a finger over the straw entry hole or blowing into the straw themselves, thereby producing a 0.00 reading.
The practice was found to be most common amongst officers on general duties and highway patrol members, particularly in rural areas.
The speculation as to why the tests were faked ranges from: officers simply being lazy and not wanting to work, to wanting to appear they worked harder than they did, to not wanting to test people they know in close communities, to claims they had to meet test quotas.
Lack of accountability
Victoria Police Assistant Commissioner Russell Barrett stated, “we let ourselves down, we’ve let our community down. It stops now”, adding:
“This conduct will not be tolerated, any member found engaging in this practice from today has been put on notice they will be investigated”.
The statement suggests that those who have engaged in the misconduct to date will face no consequences.
Victoria Police says it is in the process of appointing an external investigator to determine “the root causes of the behaviour” and “supervision and management practices that resulted in the behaviour continuing to go unchecked”.
Excuses for the misconduct
The Police Association’s explanation for its members engaging in such conduct is that they are “overworked and under-resourced”. It says police are expected to conduct a total of 1,100,000 tests a year.
However, Mr Barrett has made it clear there are no pressures upon officers to meet targets let alone any financial incentives, and that there is no excuse for the conduct.
Culture of cover-ups
IBAC has expressed concerns that no-one within the police force reported the practice – that TAC was the body to raise concerns when it found data anomalies.
“The evidence that Victoria Police officers have falsified tests is deeply concerning, as is the evidence of a culture that has enabled this to occur and not be detected or immediately dealt with,” IBAC Commissioner Robert Redlich said.
“Victoria Police officers have a clear obligation not to turn a blind eye to any police misconduct, and to report it to Victoria Police or to IBAC so it can be thoroughly dealt with.”
In terms of the impending police investigation, IBAC says: “The Victoria Police investigation must be robust, thorough and far reaching to address the clear opportunities to examine issues of culture, determine if there has been any criminality or serious breaches of discipline, and importantly, to ensure this sort of behaviour does not occur again.”
Victoria Police: ‘a law unto themselves’
Time and again, ‘good cops’ have admitted being too scared to stand up to behaviour they witness and know is wrong.
The culture of misconduct, brutality, cover-ups and police policing themselves must change if trust in the police force is to be restored.