A new approach is needed for how Victoria Police handle confrontation with young people in crisis and investigations into serious police violence need to be independently conducted, the Human Rights Law Resource Centre (HRLRC) said after providing its submissions to the Coroner's inquest into the police shooting of Northcote teenager Tyler Cassidy. HRLRC Director of Advocacy and Strategic Litigation, Emily Howie, 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 young people in crisis, history will continue to repeat itself,” Ms Howie said.
The four police officers are seeking a finding from the Coroner that Tyler’s death was a suicide, but Ms Howie is concerned such theories only serve to distract from the need for urgent systemic changes.
“Instead of using the inquiry to try to justify this tragic shooting, we should be focusing on how we prevent similar deaths from happening again and how best to equip officers with the ability to defuse tense situations. If there is such a phenomenon as ‘suicide by cop’ then our police need protocols and training to deal with such circumstances in ways that do not result in police fulfilling death wishes,” Ms Howie said.
Despite recent limited improvements to police training, the HRLRC said a cultural shift was required within the police force to ensure that protocols and training recognised the importance of communication and de-escalation skills when dealing with people in crisis.
Only 73 seconds elapsed between the police first approaching Tyler and him being shot dead, in which 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 Howie said.
The HRLRC also said to be effective all such investigations into serious police violence need to be independent.
“It is no use having the police investigate themselves. Not only is it commonsense to ensure investigations into police violence are independent, but it is also in keeping with international human rights law and the Victorian Charter of Human Rights,“ Ms Howie said.
A redacted copy of the HRLRC's submission can be found here: Closing HRLC Submissions to Coronial inquest into death of Tyler Cassidy