Police pay $5m for false imprisonment and assault

Sydney Morning Herald

Anna Patty

February 08, 2012

The NSW Police Force was forced to pay out more than $5 million to compensate people it had falsely imprisoned and assaulted last financial year.

Figures provided by Police Minister Mike Gallacher’s office in response to questions from the Greens, show this was a $1 million increase on the previous year.

There were 10 matters concerned solely with compensation for false imprisonment, costing a total of $879,102.43. In 2009-10, there were six matters which cost both parties $410,171.92.

A further 13 involved compensating victims of assault and false imprisonment, costing both parties $1,499,063.69 in 2010-11. This was seven more than in the previous year – costing $1,279,624.78.

There were seven matters involving compensation for false imprisonment and malicious prosecution, costing both parties $1,376,009.39. There were two the previous year, costing $364,783.40.
Another four incidents involved compensation for assault, false imprisonment and malicious prosecution, costing both parties $1,597,490.93 last year. That was a decrease on the eight incidents the previous year, costing $2,032,185.69.
Greens MP and police spokesman, David Shoebridge, who requested the budget estimates figures, said they showed the NSW Police Force paid out more than $5 million for cases involving allegations of police assault, false imprisonment and malicious prosecution in 2010-11 compared to around $4 million the previous year.

“Last week we saw the Police Integrity Commission take a cursory 24 hours to review and dismiss a request to review police actions when a serving police officer was unwittingly defended by his Assistant Commissioner father after being captured on tape repeatedly striking a spectator,” Mr Shoebridge said.

“The PIC continues to take a hands-off approach to allegations of police assault and refuses to investigate most complaints, which leaves only internal reviews where police investigating police. This is far from ideal.

“These figures show that both the number and cost of settlements relating to police misconduct are rising, and yet the Minister is refusing to act.

“The growing cost and number of these cases are signs of systemic failure of police oversight—which should be of grave concern to the people of NSW and the Police Minister.”

Mr Shoebridge said a “genuinely” independent oversight body was needed to investigate these matters and, over time, make for a more accountable police force.

“The public needs to have faith that there are sufficient checks and balances to minimise incidents of police assault and false imprisonment, and these figures suggest that faith is being sorely tested,” he said.

“The NSW Police Force is over 16,000 strong and it is inevitable in any institution of this size that serious incidents requiring independent scrutiny will occur. “These figures should be sending alarm bells all the way to the Police Minister that the current system of internal police reviews needs urgent reform.”

Paddy Gibson, a researcher at the University of Technology Sydney was arrested and detained for a few hours in 2007 after a protest during the APEC meeting when George Bush visited Sydney. He said he was arrested at the end of the demonstration and was sitting in Hyde Park, which was not an excluded area, after the demonstration. He said an out of court settlement, which he agreed not to reveal, was reached for his false imprisonment.

“There was no cause to arrest me. I was wrongfully arrested and assaulted in that process,” he said.
A spokesman for the NSW Police said the number of complaints against police for using unreasonable force (including assaults) had dropped by six per cent from 510 (2009/10) to 478 (2010/11).

“The increase in the number of matters resolved is likely due to a renewed focus within the NSW [Police Force] to engage in early alternative dispute processes to achieve a quick and efficient resolution of disputes, in accordance with the NSW State Government model litigant policy.”
A spokesman for the NSW Police Minister, Mike Gallacher, said appropriate “checks and balances” were in place to investigate complaints against police officers.

“When such isolated incidents do arise, the public can be assured independent bodies such as the Police Integrity Commission and the NSW Ombudsman can review the actions of police,” he said.

“The community deserves to have confidence in their Police Force and confidence that when complaints are made they will be resolved.”

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