Almost all complaints of excessive force by WA police are referred back to internal affairs units by the state’s corruption watchdog, further fracturing the relationship with Aboriginal communities.
But the state’s police union president has told a parliamentary hearing there is no systemic racism in WA’s police force and officers are already heavily scrutinised.
Since July 2016, WA’s Corruption and Crime Commission has probed just eight of the 289 complaints it received claiming excessive use of police force, with the vast majority referred to the WA Police internal affairs unit.
Aboriginal Legal Service WA director Peter Collins on Wednesday said internal police complaints rarely resulted in a desired outcome.
The ALS is calling for an independent office of police integrity which would assess complaints made by Aboriginal people through a cultural lens.
“If you want to repair a completely fractured relationship between the Aboriginal community of Western Australia and the WA police service, you need to expose these things, you need to have public hearings and you need police to provide an account of why they do things,” Mr Collins said.
He added that the ALS’s relationship with the CCC had deteriorated in recent years as the corruption watchdog carried out major investigations into alleged public sector fraud, corruption and misuse of parliamentary allowances.
“Aboriginal people aren’t the subject of inquiries into unexplained wealth. They’re not the high-flying public servants or local councillors who’ve been investigated for an alleged illegal rorting of the public purse,” Mr Collins told the hearing.
“In our experience of them, the CCC is completely tone deaf when it comes to dealing with Aboriginal people and issues.”
Police Commissioner Chris Dawson said the force had protocols to protect the integrity of internal investigations and he didn’t see the need for a separate agency.
“(The CCC) do criticise us when we deserve it, and I have seen instances where I think ‘we’re going to cop a whack’ and it’s not unwarranted,” he said.
WA Police Union president Harry Arnott said the force pulled no punches when it came to internal misconduct investigations.
“The WA Police force has a culture of eating their own … if they investigate an officer for use of force, they will go after that officer quite significantly,” he said.
Just 88 officers had been sanctioned for excessive use of force since 2014 from an estimated 13.2 million contacts with the WA public, he said.
CCC chief executive Ray Warnes said the commission applied several criteria when deciding which complaints to investigate, including whether they reflected systemic issues.
He said the CCC had powers to intensively review matters when it felt they had not been sufficiently investigated.