A widespread practice within Victoria Police of falsifying preliminary breath tests to meet quotas was revealed in May 2018. IBAC announced it would oversight Victoria Police’s response to this issue.
Victoria Police, with the agreement of IBAC, commissioned former Chief Commissioner Neil Comrie AO, APM to conduct an independent investigation into the falsification of preliminary breath tests by Victoria Police officers, and prepare a report for Victoria Police.
Mr Comrie found the falsification of preliminary breath tests is an ethical failure by Victoria Police. He made 23 recommendations in his report, which Victoria Police accepted. The executive summary of Mr Comrie’s report was released by Victoria Police in January this year.
Victoria Police has advised IBAC further investigations, required by IBAC, are ongoing.
Commissioner for IBAC, The Honourable Robert Redlich QC said: “The most significant finding by Mr Comrie was that Victoria Police undertook to meet a road safety measure in which no more than half of one per cent of tested drivers would be found to be committing drink or drug driving offences.”
“The aspirational road safety target that no more than half of one per cent of drivers being found over the limit was determined to be an unrealistic and unachievable safety standard. Mr Comrie found it led to perverse and illegitimate methods being employed to convey a false impression the measure was being met. It meant police avoided catching offending drivers,” Commissioner Redlich said.
Commissioner Redlich said the Comrie report found falsifying preliminary breath tests to meet work performance requirements was only one of a number of ways in which police had minimised the chance of detecting offending drivers.
The budget allocated to Victoria Police for road safety was in part based on meeting this measure.
“It is vital the Victorian community has confidence Victoria Police is properly using preliminary breath tests, and other strategies, to ensure they are improving road safety,” Commissioner Redlich said.
“It is important to remember that falsifying tests is not a harmless practice to meet problematic metrics and quotas as the effect of this practice means public safety is put at risk because drivers who should have been detected and taken off the road for drink driving and drug use were not detected and were able to continue driving,” Commissioner Redlich said.
IBAC has conveyed to Victoria Police, and to the relevant government departments that such measures for road safety must not be used by Victoria Police nor should it be used as the basis for a budgetary allocation to Victoria Police.
“Victoria Police’s road safety approach must be directed at making our roads safer for all Victorians, so it is crucial the problems identified with the integrity of preliminary breath testing be quickly and thoroughly addressed,” Commissioner Redlich said.
“Any perverse metrics that remain in place as a safety standard will adversely affect the integrity of Victoria Police’s road safety program,” Commissioner Redlich said.
New metrics of effectiveness for preliminary breath tests need to be quickly set and be subject to public scrutiny. It is not yet known what the metrics for the 2019/20 year will be.
IBAC has requested Victoria Police publicly release Mr Comrie’s full report. That release should include the report prepared for Victoria Police by the Director of the Centre for Ethical Leadership, Mr Peter Collins, so there can be full public disclosure of the issues identified in both these reports.
Mr Collins’s report which was based on discussions with approximately 350 Victoria Police members, and identifies ten key integrity themes arising from these discussions found there was a ‘whacking’ culture in Victoria Police where officers were admonished by their superiors and warned about their future if they did not meet their preliminary breath test targets.
Mr Collins also found junior officers were discouraged from detecting those drivers who were affected by drugs or alcohol, and instead encouraged to target drivers who were unlikely to be drug or alcohol affected.
“IBAC believes that full disclosure of the breadth and depth of issues revealed by these reports, along with Victoria Police’s actions to date and planned response, will work to help restore trust in the approach to current and future testing and the road safety strategy,” Commissioner Redlich said.
Victoria Police also need to consider the findings of Mr Collins that ethical failings, including failures of leadership and behaviour, identified in relation to falsification of preliminary breath tests are likely to be indicative of ethical failings in other areas.