Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Vic. police hiding behind secrecy to cover up their failings

TRIPLE-0 emergency call data used to help expose under-reporting of violent crimes by Victoria Police is now being hidden from the public.

The Herald Sun revealed last year that police were sent to 25,000 more assaults in Melbourne and Geelong by triple-0 dispatchers in 2010-11 than were recorded in Victoria Police crime figures.

When fresh data was sought by the Herald Sun, the Emergency Services Telecommunication Authority, which operates the system, said information on incidents that police were sent to, including assaults, brawls, domestic arguments and neighbourhood disputes, could no longer be released.

Police Minister Kim Wells promised new laws to end the secrecy after being contacted by the Herald Sun.

The State Ombudsman had repeatedly urged the force to make greater use of triple-0 data since finding in 2009 that police had abused recording procedures to improve crime clearance rates.

CEO Ken Shymanski said ESTA recognised the legitimacy of the public interest in the information and "would prefer to have a capacity to share generalised information about call-taking and dispatch", but had been advised this was no longer possible.

Mr Shymanski said ESTA had sought legal guidance as to its obligations late last year following an information request from a member of the public. He said that advice cast doubt on the legality of past releases.

"In short, ESTA must not publicly release 'any information' relating to calls received or messages communicated by the authority in the course of providing emergency services."

ESTA declined to release the legal advice.

Mr Wells said the secrecy was an unintended consequence of strict privacy provisions included in the ESTA Act when it was introduced by the former Labor government in 2004. "We will amend the legislation to strike a better balance between the public's right to know how the service is performing and the need to protect the privacy of Victorians who have used the ESTA service."

In February, Victoria Police said it would launch an external review of the way it collected data on assaults after the Herald Sun revealed the Australian Bureau of Statistics' victim survey had put the number of assaults in Victoria in 2011-12 at 588,600 - 14 times the 42,076 recorded by police.

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