Thursday, June 23, 2011

Vic police chief faces new probe on police statistics

THE Ombudsman is investigating why former Victorian Police Commissioner Simon Overland and Victoria Police refused to release two independent reports on violent crime and public safety only days before last year's cliff-hanger state election.

The reports called for reforms that were at odds with the policies of the then-Brumby Labor government and were not supported by Mr Overland, the then-chief commissioner, and his leadership team, The Australian reports.

This investigation is the second to probe the links between senior ranks of Victoria Police and the Brumby government before the November 27 Victorian election. Last week, a damning report from Ombudsman George Brouwer criticised Mr Overland over the release of questionable crime figures in the lead-up to that election. That report allegedly prompted Police Minister Peter Ryan to persuade Mr Overland to resign.

However, The Australian understands that a second Ombudsman's inquiry is currently under way into whether political considerations influenced decisions by police command before the state election.

The inquiry is believed to be looking at why Victoria Police reneged on a promise made to the Seven Network to provide two independent consultants' reports into drug and street crime in Melbourne's CBD in the week before the election.

One of the reports, Safer Victoria, written in 2009 by PricewaterhouseCoopers, recommended that a single Office of Public Safety be set up to promote a whole-of-government approach to tackling the rising incidence of crimes such as assaults, property damage and robbery. The report's findings were not backed by either the government or police.

Victoria Police claimed the findings of the Safer Victoria report were not endorsed by the force and that, if released, were "likely to be confused and misrepresented as the established views of Victoria Police and therefore mislead the public".

Police said the findings of the other report, SafeStreets, were also not endorsed by the force and that, if released, would "injure the public interest because it would promote pointless and capricious debate".

Seven's initial attempt in May last year to acquire the documents under Freedom of Information was denied when the reports were wrongly declared to be cabinet-in-confidence.

Seven appealed to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal and, in November, Victoria Police lawyers finally agreed to provide the documents in the week before the November 27 election.

During that week, Victoria Police refused to release the documents as promised, saying there were stakeholders who still needed to be informed.

Mr Overland has strongly denied the delay in the release of the reports was politically motivated.

It is understood the Ombudsman agreed to conduct a formal investigation into the matter after a complaint lodged by Seven.

A spokeswoman for Ombudsman Victoria declined to comment yesterday. The FOI editor for the Seven Network, Michael McKinnon, also declined to comment.


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