Friday, May 27, 2011

Vic. police boss lobbied Office of Police Integrity to water down criticism of dodgy crime stats

VICTORIA'S chief of police Simon Overland tried to persuade the Office of Police Integrity to water down a damning report on the force's handling of crime statistics.

The Chief Commissioner - who during a press conference yesterday asked "Who failed stats?" and raised his own arm - recently wrote to OPI director Michael Strong to ask him to remove one scathing criticism and to suggest other changes.

The section of the report Mr Overland wanted deleted related to an OPI finding that Victoria Police had listed almost 160,000 crimes since 1998 as being solved even though charges were never laid.

Mr Strong refused Mr Overland's request to delete a finding that the method of recording crime was flawed and "open to manipulation".

Controversy over the OPI report, which was tabled in the Victorian State Parliament yesterday, comes after the Herald Sun this week revealed the force fudged official data to paint a rosier picture of crime.

There is a second probe into police handling of crime statistics. Ombudsman George Brouwer is examining whether senior officers were pressured to release favourable crime statistics in the lead-up to 2010's state election, as a boost to the former Labor government.

Mr Strong yesterday left the door open for the OPI to examine whether the force's release of figures showing a 27.5 per cent drop in Melbourne CBD street assaults was politically motivated, and whether any crime was committed in its doing so. "I propose to wait until the outcome of the Ombudsman's investigation before determining what, if any, action OPI will take," he said.

Police Minister Peter Ryan said he still "supports" Mr Overland, despite the damaging findings in the OPI report.

But Mr Ryan said it was important that no decision was made on the allegations that crime statistics had been skewed for political gain - and any knock-on impact on Mr Overland's future - until after the Ombudsman's report is made public. The report from the Ombudsman could be tabled in Parliament next week.

"We will make determinations at that time, but it will be considered, and there will be no knee-jerk reactions," Mr Ryan said.

The OPI probe identified 155,678 crimes since 1998 that had been recorded on Intent to Summons forms and listed as solved, even though no charges were ever laid. In many cases, the alleged suspect wasn't even questioned about the crimes.

"Although the overall impact on Victoria Police crime clearance rates is statistically insignificant, it is a process open to manipulation," the report said.


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