The option for confidential Human Rights Commission settlements, the inclusion of ACT police within the jurisdiction of the ACT Integrity Commission and immediate upgrades to the Gungahlin Police Station have all been recommended by the ACT Justice and Community Safety Committee.
Urgent upgrades to police buildings and facilities, such as appropriate rooms for ‘soft’ interviews, more on-duty cars and separate space for lunch and breaks also need to be completed before the ACT signs a new agreement with the Australian Federal Police (AFP) agreement, an inquiry into current ACT Policing arrangements found.
But the primary finding of the inquiry is likely to be the hottest topic: that the ACT should trial its own independent police force, which will both increase oversight and accountability.
The ACT Government pays the AFP around $165 million a year to provide policing services to the Territory through ACT Policing. The current five-year agreement is set to expire next year.
“The Minister for Policing has little day-to-day sight of the operations of ACT Policing and this makes ministerial responsibility in this context complex [and] possibly near impossible to discharge fully,” the report said.
“Therefore the key recommendation of this inquiry is that there be a degree of separation built into the system and that such a purposeful separation be trialled for a full purchase cycle before any consideration is given to any future discussion of the need that there may be for an independent ACT police force at some stage in the future.”
Both the Northern Territory and Tasmania, comparative jurisdictions in terms of size and structure, have their own independent police forces, dispelling the argument that the ACT is too small or too immature to have its own independent force, the report says.
The federal Labor member for Fenner in north Canberra, Dr Andrew Leigh, introduced legislation in February this year that would have reversed laws that exempted ACT police from the ACT Integrity Commission. The Integrity Commission cannot currently investigate ACT Policing as it falls under the AFP – a federal body.
“This ensures that policing services provided in the ACT have the proper oversight that everybody in the Territory would expect to exist,” Dr Leigh told federal parliament back in February.
The culture within the force also needs to be addressed, both in terms of engagement with external interactions with multicultural communities and internal perceptions of mental health issues among officers.
The committee recommended that ACT Policing get to know local community leaders in faith and cultural communities and develop deeper relationships with the community, as well as improving cultural diversity in the force.
Support services that operate 24-hours a day and on weekends to deal with peak demand after work and drawing from the wealth of experiencing from members who are or have suffered from PTSD to better support those their peers have also been recommended.