The Commonwealth Ombudsman has given a mixed report card to the Australian Federal Police and the way it investigates complaints.
The Ombudsman notes that there are few complaints, and none established, but does ask questions as to whether this is the result of the way complaints are investigated:
We studied sample cases to look for reasons for these outcomes. Our work shows that reporting on excessive use of force has often been incomplete and deficient. In some cases there is little evidence to show that AFP members took steps to diffuse difficult situations before resorting to force.
The AFP takes a case by case approach to investigating complaints, even where there may be a substantial history of complaints against the member. This is consistent with what the Ombudsman has previously identified as the ‘criminal investigation’ approach to complaints, rather than dealing with them by way of an administrative inquiry.
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Such an inquiry is not bound by the rules of evidence and does not need to be proved beyond reasonable doubt. It should be conducted expeditiously and with a view to process improvement to avoid a repeat of the complained of conduct.
The delay in reaching conclusions on investigations, the low establishment rate for external complaints and the manner of conducting investigations calls into question whether or not the principal aims of amending AFP complaint handling, via the enactment of Part V, are being sufficiently met.