Police shooting: Coroner’s findings highlight urgent need for reform of police training on use of force

Victoria Police must take a new approach to handling confrontation with people in crisis, the Human Rights Law Centre has said, following today’s release of the findings of the coronial inquest into the 2008 police shooting of Melbourne teenager Tyler Cassidy.

The Human Rights Law Centre’s Director of Advocacy and Strategic Litigation, Anna Brown, said it is important to keep in mind that the police shooting of Tyler Cassidy was not a one off.

“More people are shot dead by police in Victoria than in any other state. Unless the Victoria Police force fundamentally change the way they deal with people in crisis, history will continue to repeat itself,” Ms Brown said. “We welcome the Coroner’s call for ‘urgent’ reform of police training to ‘safely manage vulnerable youth and people in crisis’,” said Ms Brown.

As well as structural reform, Ms Brown said a cultural shift was required within Victoria Police, which on average uses force every 2.5 hours.

“Only 73 seconds elapsed between the police first approaching Tyler and him being shot dead. In this short time, Tyler was sprayed with capsicum foam twice, took a phone call and was shot 10 times. Tyler may have been highly agitated and distressed, but police protocols and training should provide officers with the ability to safely deal with a wide range of circumstances without resorting to lethal force,” Ms Brown said.

The Human Rights Law Centre considers that Victorian law and the Victoria Police Manual need to be amended to make it clearer that force is only lawful as a last resort and when strictly necessary.

“Situations do arise where police may need to use force, but it should only be used with the utmost restraint and in a manner which minimizes damages and injury. Force should only be used to safeguard life and property, not for behavioural or compliance purposes,” Ms Brown said.

The Coroner’s findings also highlight the inadequacy of current systems for the investigation of police related deaths, which involve police investigating police. However, Ms Brown said that the Coroner’s recommendation that an “institutionally independent legally trained person” be available to observe the interviewing of police officers implicated in deaths is only a partial answer.

“Human rights law and international best practice require that such investigations be conducted by a body that is fully independent of police. An independent investigative body would not only reduce the risk of collusion or corruption, but increase public trust and confidence in police processes,” said Ms Brown.

“If the Victorian Government is serious about transparency and accountability, we need to ensure that these principles are upheld when Victorian citizens are injured or killed by Victoria Police.”

A copy of the Human Rights Law Centre’s recent report, ‘Upholding Our Rights: Towards Best Practice in Police Use of Force’ can be found online here: http://www.hrlc.org.au/files/HRLC-Police-Use-of-Force-Final-Report-2-September-20111.pdf.

For further information or comments, please contact Anna Brown on 0422 235 522 or anna.brown@hrlc.org.au.