26 September 2023

Police complaint service found lacking

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An Ombudsman investigation into the Australian Federal Police’s attention to dealing with complaints it received in 2020-21 found it attended to less than half the numbers it received.

According to the Ombudsman the service was less than half the complaints it received about its personnel in 2020-21.

In his report, Commonwealth Ombudsman’s activities under Part V of the Australian Federal Police Act 1979, the Ombudsman, Iain Anderson said this was an overall decrease in resolutions since the previous financial year.

Mr Anderson said his Office assessed the AFP’s administration of professional standards complaints, including corruption complaints.

“At each review, the Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman assesses the AFP’s progress against our previous findings,” Mr Anderson said.

“Some of the findings in this Report relate to ongoing issues my Office identified in previous years,” he said.

“This includes findings on the AFP’s performance against timeliness benchmarks, its communication with complainants and the correct identification and categorising of conduct issues.”

Mr Anderson said the AFP’s Service Charter stated a commitment ‘to fair, and where possible, timely complaints resolution and adherence to laws and standards which govern the handling of complaints’.

He said there was a risk that the AFP’s “persistent low adherence” to timeliness benchmarks for resolving complaints may undermine this commitment.

“The AFP’s performance against its internal timeliness benchmarks has been a subject of repeat findings and recommendations since our first review in the 2007– 08 period and identified as an issue in 12 review periods with three previous recommendations,” the Ombudsman said.

“We identified an overall decrease in the timely resolution of complaints within benchmarks compared with our previous inspection,” he said.

“Our review found that 49.5 per cent of complaints were resolved within the benchmark, down from almost 54 per cent resolved within benchmarks in 2019–2020.”

However, Mr Anderson said he was pleased to see the AFP had started significant reforms to improve its administration of complaints and his Office would monitor the outcome of these reforms.

He made a total of seven recommendations, 13 suggestions and three better practice suggestions to assist the AFP to improve its management of complaints.

Among these, Mr Anderson recommended the AFP take action to meet timeliness benchmarks for the resolution of Category 3 complaints consistently; ensure that conflict of interest declarations were made consistently and contemporaneously on all complaint records requiring investigation; and provide appropriate guidance and training for staff to meet communication requirements.

Mr Anderson also suggested the AFP formally engage with the Ombudsman to discuss and consider amendments to the Categories of Conduct Determination, and that it implement quality assurance methods to ensure that allegations are appropriately categorised.

The Ombudsman’s 39-page Report can be accessed at this PS News link.

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