Friday, November 13, 2020

No accountability means no confidence II

A little over a month ago, we saw two Independent Police Conduct Authority reports on egregious police behaviour which seemed criminal (and certainly would have been if you or I had done the same things). In one, a police officer trespassed on a man's property, then assaulted him with pepper spray before unlawfully arresting him. In the other, two police officers pursued a fleeing vehicle like rabid dogs, driving the wrong way up a one-way street at high speed after disobeying orders to abandon the pursuit. The car they were pursuing crashed head-on into another vehicle, injuring two innocent people. In both cases, the IPCA reported that the officers had been subjected to a "confidential employment process", but the outcome of that process was not reported. In other words, three police officers had engaged in unlawful, arguably criminal behaviour, and we were left with no idea of whether there had been any accountability for it at all.

I was curious about this, so I filed an OIA request seeking information on the outcomes of that process: whether they were fired, demoted, formally warned, removed from some duties, subjected to internal disciplinary charges (if applicable) or prosecution. Yesterday the police responded - late, as always - refusing my request under s9(2)(a) (privacy). According to the Police, the fact that their actions were reported on by the IPCA, and that the IPCA knows the outcome of the employment process is enough transparency for accountability. Pretty obviously, I disagree. This just looks like police protecting their own, as usual.

The case is off to the Ombudsman, of course. The guidance on public interest is full of examples of agencies - including the police - being forced to release the outcomes of employment processes in order to ensure accountability. As the Ombudsman says there, disclosure of such information provides an incentive for agencies and their staff to engage in proper and lawful conduct, and helps restore public trust and confidence when they don't. Sadly, the police seem to have forgotten that (just as they seem to have forgotten the need for warrants, limitations on use of force, or the law against dangerous driving in these cases). I expect that the Ombudsman will remind them.

[The police's actual response will be posted as soon as I can get DocumentCloud working again]