Police watchdog IPCA skips investigations due to financial pressures
Allegations of excessive force by police are going uninvestigated by the country's independent watchdog, due to financial pressures on the organisation.
The Independent Police Conduct Authority says it is "pushing against the wall" as a result of the need for penny-pinching – at a cost to its work.
Speaking to the law and order select committee, IPCA chairman Sir David Carruthers said the authority had run operating deficits for the last four financial years, putting "significant pressure" on its cash flow and eating away its reserves.
Carruthers said the IPCA had monitored its spending carefully and increased its efficiency, and was prioritising "harder and sharper".
However, the authority was "pushing against the wall" in some areas due to the changes.
The authority had been forced to abandon plans in some areas, such as assessing the standard of detention facilities and shifting its focus from "just blaming" to prevention.
While the IPCA could cut costs by reducing its investigations, Carruthers said that was not a desirable solution.
"We'll never be short of money because we can always decline to investigate independently, as we think fit ... but there comes a time when we then don't feel comfortable about actually doing the job that we're there for."
Speaking after the meeting, IPCA operations group manager Warren Young confirmed the authority had already passed up independently investigating some cases, instead referring them back to police to check themselves, because it was "beyond our resource".
"There have been occasionally matters that we've referred back to the police where if we'd had the resource, we might have investigated, including, for example, excessive force cases."
However, Young said the IPCA would always independently investigate cases it regarded as critical and "most significant".
He would not comment on whether the IPCA would ask for more funding from the Government, but said it could live within its means if it did not get a boost.
Labour police spokesman Stuart Nash said the IPCA's inability to investigate some serious claims of misconduct could damage confidence in the police.
"It really concerns me that they are saying, 'We are going to push back on some of these because they just haven't got the funding' – it sort of undermines the integrity of the whole process."
The public were likely to stop sharing their complaints with the IPCA if they were not confident they would be investigated, Nash said.
Green Party police spokesman David Clendon said the IPCA had done well to work with the resources it had, but needed more funding if it was to successfully hold the police to account.
"There's only so long you can squeeze the orange before you suddenly run out."
Justice Minister Amy Adams said she believed the IPCA was "adequately funded" for its work, with an increase in low-severity claims cancelled out by a decline in the most serious claims.
"We've been watching their financial situation: up until now, they haven't put in a request for more funding, they may this year, we'll work through that if they do."
The IPCA had previously been given one-off funding boosts in the past for "large-scale" cases, Adams said.