Calls are growing for a parliamentary inquiry into use of force by New South Wales police, with justice experts saying too much focus is being placed on the actions of individual police officers rather than the “festering” systemic problem.
“This isn’t a case of a few bad apples, it’s a case of a festering tree,” said Samantha Lee, a lawyer at Redfern Legal Centre.
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“It’s about time we had some accountability from high up rather than those who are part of what’s happening on the ground.”
It comes after the state was confronted with a string of incidents or charges laid against NSW police officers in the past week.
Josh Pallas, president of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, said what connects these cases is a poor culture around the use of force, and a parliamentary inquiry is necessary to root out the problems.
“It would provide more scrutiny and a political consensus about the way forward,” he said.
He said there needs to be a more rigorous process for when Tasers or guns can be deployed to change the way police manage situations. However he noted the lethal weapons were already only meant to be used as a last resort or where there were people who were injured or at threat of injury.
A NSW police spokesperson said use of force by police officers is always reviewed and that informs changes to training and procedures.
“Every day our highly trained and dedicated police force of over 18,000 officers face all manner of situations and risks to their personal safety, as they work to keep us safe,” they said.
But Lee said there’s too much focus on training, and not enough emphasis on monitoring and accountability, as well as recruitment practices.
“This has been going on for years and all we hear is the need for more training, training, training,” she said. It’s tick a box on training and then leave it up to the individual officer to get it right.
“We need some level of public inquiry into what is going on in the police.”
On Tuesday the Greens MP and spokesperson for justice, Sue Higginson, introduced a notice of motion which included a parliamentary inquiry into police powers and police responses when dealing with vulnerable people.
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“We need to be shining a bright light and providing a forum for people to come forward so that we can look at where we’re going wrong,” she said. “Where did this policing problem in NSW get all of its elements that are manifesting, unfortunately, in people’s deaths, in people’s trauma, and in people’s harm?”
The independent MLC Jeremy Buckingham, the Animal Justice party, and the Liberal Democratic party have said they will support the Greens motion for a parliamentary inquiry, however the NSW opposition has indicated they will not.
The shadow minister for police, Paul Toole, said the government should conduct a review that is released publicly into NSW police policies and protocols, particularly when dealing with elderly people.
“As the media coverage into these major incidents continues it is important to remember that there are hundreds of police officers across our state protecting the community’s safety and livelihoods,” Toole said.
The NSW minister for police, Yasmin Catley, was contacted for comment.
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