11th April 2021
Currently, rumours abound that a review of the Victoria Police Discipline system is underway. We would have thought it a low priority but something that does need attention.
Although the Community Advocacy Alliance (CAA) does not normally respond to ‘Scuttlebutt’, on this occasion, we make an exception because whether it is true or not is irrelevant. If it is true, then good; if not, there needs to be one at some stage.
The CAA has a view that the discipline system needs to be updated, but of far greater concern is the processes and techniques used by the police members responsible for the internal investigations.
This area needs’ root and branch’ reform, starting with admitting there is a problem, identifying whether the problem is a management one, and at what level, or a skills deficit in investigators.
Ironically, the Police Professional Standards Command (PSC) seem to be responsible for more breaches of professional standards than the general police service. But nobody seems to care as it inflicted on Police.
We have been shocked at the poor standard of investigations that have been undertaken by this unit that we would have expected to be by example at the pinnacle of professional standards.
We accept, however, this deficit was not created overnight, and previous administrations have a lot to answer for.
The PSC Command should stand above victimisation and poor investigation practices. If evidence of an offence is clear after proper investigation, then a process should be commenced against the police member, but if the evidence to support criminal or disciplinary charges is lacking or flawed, the PSC should walk away. The investigators’ emotions and views must be irrelevant; the decisions must be made on the evidence.
It is imperative that investigations are based on all available evidence, not just the evidence that supports the investigator’s hypothesis.
But to the rumoured review. The greatest risk, that a review of this nature presents is the methodology it uses.
There have been many issues that touch on discipline over recent years where the matters have been outsourced, where Police administration has avoided making decisions, probably because of a lack of skill.
Having external bodies, quangos, or authorities designing and determining Police policy is a shocking indictment on the inability of Police administrations.
You could be forgiven for assuming that these organisations are responsible for running the Police Force, given past experience; yet the Chief Commissioner runs the Police Force, and these organisations may be invited to express a view to be considered. However, the responsibility for policing this State unequivocally rests with the CCP, and he has the weight of the Police Act behind him and eighteen thousand-odd police members.
Concerning, in the rumour sphere, is that the people conducting the review are considering or are inviting input from these same agencies or authorities that have previously been given authority over the Force.
Subcontracting Force Management was a disgrace then, and we are confident that with the new Chief Commissioner, we had passed by those rubbish approaches, so we sincerely hope the ‘rumour mill’ is inaccurate on this point.
We have no difficulty and see merit in external input but not at the design stage.
It is imperative that the architects of a review of discipline procedures and policy start by designing a discipline system that best suits the Force. When that is complete and accepted by the Chief Commissioner, that is the time these eternal authorise could be invited to make submissions of any concerns, and that includes the Police Association who would clearly have a significant conflict of interest in being involved in the design phase.
There is a quantum difference between “What do you think our discipline system should look like” and “You are invited to comment on our revised discipline system”. The first option indicates indecisive procrastination at play, the second displays leadership.
The CAA has argued that the current system is full of grey areas where the evidence seems not to matter.
We have come across examples where Investigators have created a narrative or hypothesis, and then only evidence sourced to support that narrative is submitted. A disgraceful practice reflecting poor investigative skills and the lack of ethics of the investigator, but more damming of the quality and ethics of their supervisors who allow this to occur.
It will be interesting to see, if there is a review, whether some real experts with lived experience of the system are encouraged to have input; there are plenty of them around in the Veteran ranks.
That would be one way to correctly identify the flaws that everybody thinks exist. A courageous move that would gain substantial respect and give strong credence to any redesign of the system.
The CAA has advocated that VicPol should consider introducing a Discipline Penalty Notice system (DPN) for minor disciplinary breaches.
Over recent years these minor matters have generally been overlooked or form part of a breakdown between managers and staff, leading to a lack of discipline throughout the organisation. Minor matters escalate rapidly if not resolved, and the DPN provides that solution.
To quote the Chief Commissioner out of context, “it is the little things that matter and can make a huge difference,” and that can be applied equally to discipline.
A DPN system covering a raft of matters will have a very significant and positive impact on Force discipline and members’ welfare.
A more disciplined force will see a substantial improvement in operational capabilities and outputs.
A DPN issued to a member takes away any angst or debate that reduces managers effectiveness, removes ambiguity, and encourages compliance on the spot rather than entering a convoluted process that is costly to administer and is a long way over the top for minor matters, creating a disincentive to act against miscreants.
There are a number of advantages of DPN’s if structured properly with a review provision and effective management of the issuing of DPN’s. A record of how many are issued and by whom and for what is an important safeguard against victimisation and also indicates whether the supervisor or manager is actually doing their job.
Once a mean average can be established across the organisation of DPN’s issued supervisors who are constantly above or below that average can be asked to explain. Most relevant if they are not meeting their KPI’s. If necessary, their management style can be adjusted.
Respect for Police is imperative to achieve good outcomes in Policing any community; it is counter-intuitive that Policing presents as an undisciplined organisation expecting the community to comply (exercise discipline) with the law.
Extending on the Chief’s comments that little things matter, the DPN system will correct many of the little things leading to a reduction in the bigger problems.
It is totally unreasonable to expect managers or supervisors to perform their task effectively without the necessary tools. We would not accept sending operational police into the field with out adequate tools, so appropriate tools should be provided for managers and supervisors.
The CAA believe the proactive deterrent effect of having this process in place will well justify the introduction.
The proposal for a Discipline Notice was submitted to VicPol in 2018 by the CAA.
At the heart of every healthy and resilient organisation is its culture. A culture can wax and wane, but it is the culture that creates the environment for a successful, productive, and dynamic enterprise.
At its cultural peak, an organisation can be unassailable in its quest for success; at its worst, it will destroy that very same organisation making it circumscribed, insipid, racked with problems producing lacklustre results.
Many of the influences on the culture dynamic are very subtle, and others not so; however, to re-energise a negative culture takes a particular management skill.
One of the things we do know from our experience is that a culturally sound and dynamic organisation is not plagued by embarrassing leaks to the media because there are no embarrassments to leak.
Media leaks are symptomatic of a culturally weak organisation, and the problem is exasperated by ‘Witch Hunts’, focusing on the source of the leak, rather than energy directed at solving the issue leaked.’ Witch Hunts’ are damaging to the culture and used by management to divert focus from their ineptitude.
We recommend the Force adopt a Discipline Penalty Notice (DPN) approach to discipline within the organisation capable of dealing with eighty per cent of the discipline matters of the organisation.
The focus of this system is to correct behaviours, and if that fails, to provide empirical evidence to terminate the police member.
Former members who have been subject to the discipline where the abhorrent and unprofessional practice of Judicial Personnel Management was applied, including the disgusting practice of the, ‘Walk of Shame’, have all related a story which generally starts out with a rather benign issue that just escalates exponentially to where they are charged with criminal offences only to have them dismissed. A number of these stories we published.
The majority of ex-members we spoke to ultimately and successfully achieved redress through civil litigation. However, it was obvious in some cases that inappropriate action by some managers was ‘covered up’ by the confidentiality agreements negotiated for settlement. This culture of cover-up, not exposing anomalies in the behaviour and processes of Vicpol, goes to the detriment of the organisation.
The advantages of a discipline notice are:
- The application of discipline can be closely monitored in both its application and impact, by location and individual managers, and will remove or readily identify examples of harassment and bad practices.
- Managers will not need to negotiate, therefore avoiding the rationalisation debates that lead to conflict.
- The system will be cost-effective by removing convoluted disciplinary procedures.
- To free up resources dedicated to disciplinary matters to further bolster frontline policing.
- To provide essential information for selection boards. Selection boards having access to notices issued against an applicant or where rank appropriate the number of notices issued by the applicant are both valuable inputs to assess any applicant.
- Provide empirical data for any consideration of a member’s ability to remain in the organisation.
What might a Discipline Notice system look like?
The main components of the system should be:
- To recognise natural justice principles of fairness.
- To not be cumbersome.
- A period of three years without further breaches should see the expiration of the record of the original notice ( a prior).
- The penalties must be scaled. However, the temptation for high penalties must be avoided as the application of this process has broader implications than the monetary penalty.
- A right of appeal within a predetermined period, for example, seven days, must be provided to either a nominated Panel and or the Police Discipline Board.
- Fines ranging from $20 – $200 to discourage frivolous appeals.
- Penalties, when applied, must be recovered at the following pay period.(Unless hardship can be demonstrated)
- Line managers must be given real-time data on the use of this process within their span of command to enable action to be taken against misuse by subordinate managers.
- Notices must generally be issued at the time of the infringement; delaying the issuing minimises the effect.
- Once a Notice is issued, the onus will shift to the member to justify the breach on appeal.
The kinds of discipline offences that might be included are:
- Not being available and ready to start work at the rostered time.
- Ceasing duty before the allotted shift expiration.
- Presenting for duty with a hairstyle that does not comply with policy.
- Unkempt Uniform.
- Failing to maintain footwear in a serviceable and clean condition.
- Failing to wear headwear outside the precincts of a police building.
- Failing to properly brief fellow officers on matters likely to affect their performance of duty or adversely affect the public.
- Unauthorised access to material on the Police Intranet.
- Use of police IT resources for other than Police work.
- Abusive or belligerent behaviour in the workplace.
- Making racial or sexist slurs or gestures.
- Failing to report to superiors incidents of harassment, bullying or sexually inappropriate behaviour of others.
- Failing to comply with a supervisor’s reasonable and lawful instruction.
- Failing to complete required correspondence in a timely manner.
- Failing to follow up on a report by a member of the public.
- Failing to be courteous or compassionate to a member of the public.
- Failing to maintain Police equipment in a serviceable condition.
- The unauthorised release of information to the media.
- Asleep on duty.
- Failing to perform the allocated rostered duty.
These are but a few matters that can be dealt with under this process. There is no doubt many more that can be added to the list — the more added, the less need for specialist investigators.
This process will be a huge step in moving decision making from a centralised system closer to where the action causing the breach is played out and empowers line managers to take greater control of their area of responsibility and creates accountability.
With this proposal outline, we are confident that a small, committed team could have this system operational in a reasonably short period. The success of the program will be the implementation with deliberate acceptance that once it is operational, there will be the need for adjustments until the best process evolves.
Trying to make it perfect before implementation will assign this initiative to a premature grave.