This is a three part account of Why Youth Crime Spiralled out of control in Victoria and what we can do about it: Pat 1 Victoria Police Command’s Bad Public Policy Decisions; Part II – A failure by IBAC and Victoria Police to Investigate Complaints and Part III – What We can do about it.
Part. 1 Victoria Police Bad Public Policy Decisions
I am John Thexton, I am now a private investigator. I resigned from Victoria Police in disgust in July 2016 after 42 years. I held the rank of Inspector. I have been a detective at various ranks including local Crime Investigation Units and the Drug Squad. I have also performed duties as a police prosecutor, Local Area Commander and in Community Development and Policy and Planning and Risk Assessment roles. I hold a Master’s Degree in Leadership and Management (Policing), a Diploma in Alcohol & other Drugs and Certificate IVs Youth Work & Training and Assessment. In 2015 I was also employed by Charles Sturt University teaching NSW Police Recruits at the NSW Police Academy.
It is as clear as the nose on your face that many of the issues we face today, including: youth crime, youth gangs, the “ice epidemic”, home grown terrorism, hoon behaviour, family violence and mental health issues, all have a common denominator, that being disengagement of youth from their families, education and their broader communities. For Victoria Police command to not actively support structured face to face engagement with youth just defies common sense.
Nobody in Victoria Police Command has intentionally set out to make this State less safe, but to the detriment of our communities and operational police officers, that has been the result of their policy decisions to retreat from engaging effectively with the communities they took a oath to protect. They have failed in their commitment to their oath of office that: “I will prevent to the best of my power all offences”. A commitment which stems from the earliest principles of policing. Victoria Police command have retreated from those principles and have indeed in the words of former Chief Commissioner Kel Glare, Lost the Plot.
Other poor policy decisions by Victoria Police command that lead to this fiasco was the change in policy relating to the theft of petrol, petrol drive – offs. As part of my then role as Regional Policy Adviser this policy was circulated for comment prior to its release. One senior commissioned police officer wrote, “Who thought this was a good idea” and “This is nothing but crime prevention by statistical redesign.” These few comments sum up the thoughts of many operational police. I researched the issue and found that Victoria Police was following a similar policy in Western Australia. I found that 12 months after the introduction police officers were failing to investigate where there was clear supporting evidence that a criminal offence had occurred. Western Australia Police had to issue a direction to police officers to actually conduct an investigation.
This was a policy that was supposedly sending a message to large corporate companies to change the way petrol was sold, but in effect was actually a message to thieves that they had a green light and a message to every person working behind the counter that Victoria Police was abandoning them and yet another reinforcement of the message that when it comes to policing, “There is nothing we can do about it.” see Police Urged to Investigate Petrol Thieves after Civil Ruling Led to Surge in Drive Offs
Strangely enough people who steal petrol tend to be involved in a whole range of other anti-social behaviour. If a report is not taken there is no incentive for service stations to update CCTV or for that matter provide any CCTV footage to police. Result, Police investigators job made harder to identify offenders who may have been involved in other crimes including home invasions. I recommended against the implementation of this policy and recommended adoption of the NSW and Queensland Police approach.
The adoption of the policy and subsequent outcry resulted in a Victorian parliamentary Inquiry into fuel drive-offs The Committee’s first recommendation was that Victoria Police develops an online fuel drive off incident report form (precisely what NSW and Oueensland had in place) and the second recommendation was that Victoria Police actually conduct an investigation when a petrol theft is reported – https://www.parliament.vic.gov.au/images/LRRCSC_Inquiry_into_Fuel_Drive-Offs.pdf. Common sense really.
Victoria Police Youth Foundation
Also, at this time Victoria Police command withdrew support for the Victoria Police Youth Foundation. The Foundation was specifically established to fund projects which involved Police engaging with Youth. The foundation, through its Executive Officer, Andy Walsh established links with business corporations such as the Pratt Family group of companies and Linfox and the Union movement. These links provided an increasing generous funding source to break down the barriers between Police and Youth and contributing to providing a safer and more inclusive community. Just as the fund gathered momentum and funds began rolling in Victoria Police Command pulled the pin.
Recidivism rates by youth released from Youth Justice Centres is even higher than that of adults released from prison. Yet when an adult is released on parole, the release date, the conditions of parole and the parolees address are routinely forwarded to Victoria Police from Corrections Victoria. Youth Justice Centres come under the control of the Department of Human Services and do not routinely release this information. I submitted numerous reports to Victoria Police command detailing the risks of police not receiving this information and provided specific instances of youth coming into contact with police and breaching their parole conditions, without police being aware of those conditions and those youth going on to re-offend. The Department of Human Services responded that the Department would not routinely release this information as it was an issue of privacy. I obtained a legal opinion that debunked this claim and directed Victoria Police to the existence of an administrative mechanism to possibly resolve this disagreement on policy. Despite this Victoria Police failed to pursue this issue.
Over five thousand Victorians a month ring 000 each month to report drivers driving dangerously on our roads (Computer Aided Despatch date collected by the Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority that you as a member of the public who pays for this to be collected is not allowed to see. Despite the public desire to help, Victoria Police does not have in place a process to consistently and effectively deal with these calls. Over a number of years, I submitted reports detailing the serious consequences, including serious injury and death, which have occurred as a result of this failure – see, Killer drug driver Joseph Brigante jailed over the death of Barbara Digby. http://www.heraldsun.com.au/archive/news/killer-drug-driver-joseph-brigante-jailed-over-the-death-of-barbara-digby/news-story/0a52683e45e4ed5822612eb316dc4d6a
I demonstrated what can be achieved by properly investigating these calls and also worked with colleagues to improve the data available to address this issue. Victoria Police still does not have in place a process to consistently and effectively deal with these calls. Failure to do so will continue to cost lives.
Chief Commissioner Neil Comrie introduced, Local Priority Policing in 1999. Victoria Police aligned their boundaries and service delivery with municipalities. In metropolitan Melbourne an Inspector was responsible for day to day policing within each municipality. Two municipalities formed a Division with a Superintendent in Charge. In regional Victoria an Inspector was in charge of an area covering two municipalities with a Division often covering four municipalities. Despite the Inspectors being poorly supported with appropriate resources local police and the public in a municipality knew who was responsible for day to day policing in that area.
The state was also divided into five Regions, one covering the City of Melbourne and the remaining four following major transport routes and communities of interest. Each Region had responsibility for portions of metropolitan Melbourne and Regional and Rural areas. This meant that the old cave up of resources between the “city and the bush”, with the country being the poor cousins was addressed.
During 2013 the management of local service delivery moved to a Divisional platform where various Inspectors were responsible for aspects of service delivery. This meant that no longer was there one Inspector in charge of all aspects of day to day policing in a municipal area. The responsibility for day to day policing had effectively been moved further from the community they served.
The Regions were also realigned to a hotchpotch of a mix of purely metropolitan Melbourne Regions and Regions covering metropolitan and regional and rural areas. Many regional boundaries were realigned to the metropolitan/rural interface, the very areas that are at the highest risk for bushfires where the greatest co-ordination of resources is required in times of emergencies. Other Government Departments have not followed this flawed approach.
The last major increase in police numbers saw a significant number go to a centralised command in the Force Response Unit and the Public Order Response Team. This was done without any communication to police officers on the front line or the broader community that this was an approach that was evidence based and shown to be successful in any other jurisdiction similar to Victoria. Having a centralised model meant that if the support of these officers was required in the outer suburban hotspots, such as Dandenong, Casey, Cranbourne or Frankston, two hours of any shift were lost by simply travelling to the area, let alone if they were required in regional centres, such as Shepparton, Mildura, Bendigo, Ballarat or the Latrobe Valley. A number of different models could have been trialled, including having similarly trained members located at decentralised locations closer to the areas where they were required or simply deploying additional members to these areas. The various models could have been evaluated and the best applied.
The whole shift to a darker more ominous colour smacked of a force less likely to engage with the community and of an organisation bereft of ideas and taking a copycat approach rather than effectively supporting innovation to improve community safety. The only state in Australia that has not succumbed to this latest edict of the fashion police is New South Wales, who have resisted change for the sake of change, but are looking at change only in order to make operational police officers safer.
This retreat from engaging with communities has not occurred in other States where the crime rates have been falling, e.g when Victoria Police withdrew police from schools NSW was establishing such initiatives. NSW and Qld each have almost 60 Police & Citizen Youth Club (PCYC) each supported by full time police officers. Victoria has one PCYC not supported by a full time police officer.
Any questioning of the legality or wisdom of these policy decisions from those within Victoria Police has been ruthlessly suppressed. As occurred with former Inspector Gordon Charteris before me. Failure to allow these concerns to be heard has meant these policies have been implemented without due scrutiny or discussion by the public.
Part II – A failure by IBAC and Victoria Police to Investigate Complaints
On 16 May 2014 I spoke out on the ABC 7.30 Report regarding this issue after Victoria Police withdrew resources from Operation Newstart. I also published a A Case for Operation Newstart @ 09 04 2014 on the Operation Newstart website and commented in articles published in the Geelong Advertiser on 15 April 2014 and 3 May 2014 – Police fear surge in youth crime and deaths after axe falls on life-changing Operation Newstart program, http://www.geelongadvertiser.com.au/news/geelong/police-fear-surge-in-youth-crime-and-deaths-after-axe-falls-on-lifechanging-operation-newstart-program/news-story/a1c01c5c19cfb783ae0e6c4e069732e9.
Operation Newstart was a partnership between Victoria Police and the Department of Education which reengaged at risk youth in Education which was first established in 1997. At its peak nine programs operated in Metropolitan and Regional Victoria. The program was independently evaluated and commended by a Victorian Parliamentary Drug & Crime Prevention Committee, in an Inquiry into Locally Based Approaches to Community Safety and Crime Prevention in 2012. The program was also recognised as a national winner of the 2010 Crime and Violence Prevention Awards (http://www.aic.gov.au/crime_community/acvpa/2010.html). The program has the potential to expand to every municipality across the state.
I took these steps after exhausting all other avenues, because as a police officer with forty years experience I was extremely concerned that the policies of Victoria Police Command would make Victoria far less safe. Unfortunately my fears since 2014 have come to fruition.
As a result of my actions I was subsequently charged with a disciplinary offence of disobeying a lawful instruction to not speak out.
I maintained that the instruction I was given in fact was not a “lawful instruction”. My complaint was that Victoria Police Command had acted “unlawfully” in coming to the decision to issue the instruction.
The “lawful instruction” was in fact “unlawful” as Victoria Police had failed to obey the law when making the decision to issue the instruction:
• Section 38 of the Human Rights and Responsibilities Act required Victoria Police to give “proper consideration” to human rights, prior to making the decision to issue the instruction, otherwise the decision is unlawful at law.
• The steps needed to be taken to give “proper consideration” have been clearly defined by the Victorian Supreme Court of Appeal.
• There is no evidence to date that Victoria Police followed these steps.
I made a complaint to IBAC and Victoria Police that Victoria Police Command had acted unlawfully.
IBAC chose not to investigate my complaint:
• IBAC can chose not to investigate under the IBAC Act.
• One of the functions of IBAC under Section 15 of the IBAC Act is to assess police personnel conduct and “to ensure that members of the police force have regard to human rights set out in the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006”.
• Failure to investigate complaints of police personnel conduct in preference to only investigating serious corrupt conduct is the equivalent of failing to put barriers at the top of a cliff to prevent injuries in preference to deploying ambulances at the bottom of the cliff. This was a bad public policy decision.
However, Victoria Police does not have an option not to investigate. Under Section 169 of the Victoria Police Act, The Chief Commissioner must investigate a complaint about the misconduct of a police officer. Victoria Police refused to investigate my complaint. My complaint has gone uninvestigated by both Victoria Police and the “watchdog” IBAC.
Why should any of my personal experience where I resigned from Victoria Police with a disciplinary charge hanging over head after not being charged with any disciplinary offence in over 40 years of policing and being awarded the National Medal and 35 year Good Conduct Medal be of any interest to members of the public. Because my experience is indicative of a hierarchical organisation that does not change unless their behaviour is challenged in the courts. It is an organisation that manages by fear. Because this dysfunctional behaviour has consequences for operational police, including stress and poor mental health outcomes, at times tragically ending in suicide. Policing is difficult enough without also battling dysfunctional management. Not being accountable also leads to Victoria Police Command making poor public policy decisions with impunity.
Further evidence of failure to investigate complaints made to both Victoria Police and IBAC can be found in a farcical use of social media, more akin to the behaviour of school kid than a member of Victoria Police Command. Refusing to investigate is not an investigation: an investigation being defined as a search for the truth; in the interests of justice; in accordance with the law.
Following a personal attack by Assistant Commissioner Fryer on the Chairman of Community Advocacy Alliance (CAA), former Chief Commissioner of Victoria Police Kel Glare, in May of 2017, a troll using the nom de plume Vernon Demerest (a character from the 1970’s movie Airport) started attacking the CAA on facebook and Kel Glare in particular.
The troll accidentally outed himself as Assistant Commissioner Brett Guerin, the head of the Victoria Police Professional Standards Command when he briefly published derogatory comments under his own name before taking down the post and publishing under the name of Vernon Demerest.
CAA lodged a complaint with the Chief Commissioner who, by law under the IBAC Act must refer any complaints against the rank of Assistant Commissioner and above to IBAC.
IBAC determined that the complaint would not be investigated by them and referred it back to the Chief Commissioner who has decided not to take the matter further.
Would a member of the Police force of a lower rank escape investigation for creating and using a fake identity on Facebook for no other purpose than to denigrate a member of the Public? Executive police officers should be held to the same or a higher account than other ranks in the Force. And no more so that the head of the Police Professional Standards Command.
In another instance, Victoria Police Command and IBAC also refused to investigate a complaint that members of the Professional Standards Command who it was alleged acted inappropriately in charging a Victoria Police employee with criminal offences. At the eleventh hour prior to the case going to Court the Director of Public Prosecutions withdrew all charges.
The culture of acting with impunity and being more concerned with perceptions rather than facts and evidence has also been highlighted by the Police Registration and Service Board decision to reverse a decision to dismiss a Senior Constable from Victoria Police, Victoria Police officer sacked for punching 13-year-old boy in face is reinstated,
http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/victoria-police-officer-sacked-for-punching-13yearold-boy-in-face-is-reinstated-20171228-h0b1hk.html and The cases: Victorian police reinstated after review of dismissals
http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/the-cases-victorian-police-reinstated-after-review-of-dismissals-20160629-gputmd.html, both articles written by Nino Bucci a Crime Reporter for The Age.
A further article by Nino Bucci: Police complaints process overhauled after a decade of criticism: states Assistant Commissioner Brett Guerin is overhauling the police complaints process. The article fails to mention that his overhaul apparently includes, not investigating complaints at all. Is this the case of the fox being in charge of the hen house?
The consequences of the failure by Victoria Police and IBAC to conduct investigations into my complaint and similar complaints has meant Victoria Police Command can act with impunity, where making bad public policy decisions can be made unimpeded, such decisions have contributed to making Victoria less safe.
Part III – What We can do about it:
Take a bi-partisan approach and have both the Opposition parties and Labor set policies that ensure Victoria Police restores prevention as part of Victoria Police core duties. Support Victoria Police to work collaboratively with other agencies and the public in developing programs that see police having face to face engagement outside a reactive operational setting, particularly with youth.
Examine has worked in Victoria, e.g. re-examine Police in Schools, Blue Light Disco, Neighbourhood Watch and Operation Newstart and other initiatives such as Backyard Rugby and what works in other states in Australia that have not experienced the dramatic increase in youth crime, look at how police in schools operate and PCYCs.
Change the culture of policing by making promotion within Victoria Police dependent on demonstrating a commitment to effective prevention of offences and positively supporting police under an applicant’s command. By Victoria Police taking a leadership role in preventing offences will encourage many more community members to actively participate in preventing youth from disengaging from their families and communities.
Recognise successful prevention initiatives and initiatives that include members of the public in preventing and reducing crime and public disorder and safety on our roads.
Over the last three years the Community Advocacy Alliance, chaired by former Chief Commissioner of Victoria Police, Kel Glare and made up of former Victoria Police members, two of whom went on to be Commissioners of Queensland and Tasmania Police, and concerned citizens, have been meeting and providing advice to both opposition parties and the government in Victoria. Both have been receptive; however, Victoria Police Command has not demonstrated the same openness to listen and have in fact displayed hostility, as demonstrated above. We need to openly discuss and debate Prevention and Citizen Empowered Policing and the Community Advocacy Alliance 100-point plan, that not only looks at policing, but also the criminal justice system as a whole, to make Victoria a safer place.
We need to ensure IBAC takes into account their duties under the whole act, including, personnel conduct and misconduct not just serious corruption – if IBAC does not have enough funding to investigate what leads to serious corruption then IBAC needs to make a strong case to ensure the funding is required and provided. Have Victoria Police comply with the law under the Human Rights and Responsibility Act (after all the Victorian Court of Appeal found that the Victoria Government was required to do so, so why not Victoria Police), this will lead to sounder and more accountable decisions as envisaged when the Act was originally debated. Have Victoria Police comply with the Victoria Police Act to investigate complaints made to them.