New South Wales Premier Mike Baird is about to name a senior judge to be the first chief commissioner of the soon-to-be established Law Enforcement Conduct Commission (LECC).

The proposed LECC will scrap the police oversight functions previously handled by the Police Integrity Commission (PIC) and the NSW Ombudsman.

The new body will also oversee the controversial NSW Crime Commission, which has been criticised for undue secrecy and a lack of accountability.

The proposed LECC legislation to be introduced by Police and Justice Minister Troy Grant following a pre-election agreement between the Coalition and the hardline executive of the NSW Police Association.

The Coalition’s changes are a victory for the lobbying efforts of the NSW police to remove the PIC and the Ombudsman from overseeing police misconduct.

Police have accused the oversight bodies of tying them up in “red tape”, inflicting distress on marriages and family relationships, disrupting criminal investigations and causing suicides.

The same arguments were successfully used by police union chiefs in Victoria and Queensland to roll back oversight measures. While some of their complaints are undoubtedly true, they have been cynically used by conservative-minded hardliners to further their political agenda for tougher powers, extra weaponry and an authoritarian police culture.

In the US and the UK, the results of this approach have been deeply worrying, with a breakdown in trust between police and local neighbourhoods, particularly in black, Asian and Muslim communities.

Grant, a former NSW police inspector, has championed the LECC, saying:

“The current oversight system has multiple agencies with overlaps and duplication of roles and functions. We need to fix it.

“Our changes will make sure our thousands of men and women in blue who go about their jobs capably and ethically can do it with confidence and certainty.”

Grant’s bill will continue the long tradition of the police investigating the police following “critical incidents”, usually a reference to a suspect citizen being shot, tasered or seriously injured during a police investigation.

Apart from a retired or serving judge as LECC chief commissioner, the draft legislation calls for the appointment of two deputy commissioners:

  • Deputy Commissioner for Integrity to prevent, detect and investigate serious misconduct or corruption with public hearings when necessary;
  • Deputy Commissioner for Oversight to investigate public complaints about police officers, and monitor NSW Police Force handling of complaints.

The PIC, which was recommended by James Wood’s 1995-97 royal commission into NSW police corruption, will be abolished, and the roles of Inspector of the NSW Crime Commission and PIC Inspector will cease to exist.

David Levine QC, the soon-to-be-axed PIC Inspector, opposed the abolition of the PIC:

“I firmly hold the view that the relevance and importance of the PIC has not diminished over the 18 years since its creation and that it should remain as an independent stand-alone authority with its special expertise in its discrete functions.” (Levine’s letter to police oversight inquiry conducted by former Liberal MP Andrew Tink, June 18, 2015.)

A favoured short list of candidates to be chief commissioner or deputy commissioners has been handed to the government by recruitment firm NGS Global, whose senior Sydney executives, Kym Fletcher and David Spencer, supervised the selection process.

When the Coalition’s legislation reaches the floor of Parliament it will enjoy support from Labor and the Greens, although some MPs may have reservations about the lack of transparency and accountability of the proposed single authority, the LECC.

The Coalition plans to pass the enabling legislation before the end of this parliamentary session and for the LECC to commence operations in the new year.

NSW cops draw more public complaints than any other institution and the real test of the LECC’s efficacy will be whether it can do better than the PIC or the Ombudsman to clean up police overreach, misconduct and corruption.

Peter Fray

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