Surge in police shootings demands coronial inquest: O’Gorman

A surge in police shootings that has left a trail of dead and wounded across the state demands a coronial inquest to establish improved standards, according to civil libertarian Terry O’Gorman.

Oct 13, 2022, updated Oct 13, 2022
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The Queensland Council of Civil Liberties vice president says he is alarmed by the uptick in fatal police shootings, the latest of which occurred on Tuesday in South Brisbane.

“It highlights the necessity in our view of there being a coronial inquest to look at the common factors underlying all of these shootings,” he said.

“Coroners look at these shootings on a case-by-case basis to decide if the shooting was justified or to ascertain if improvements need to be made to training.

“But there has been such a significant uptick in shootings both fatal and non-fatal by Queensland police over at least the last 12 months that it is appropriate for the coroner’s office to conduct an inquest linking all of these shootings to see what common factors emerge that will lead us to identifying the underlying causes.”

Queensland Police Union boss Ian Leavers believes a rise in substance abuse and mental ill-health in the community is a leading pressure-point for police.

Associate Professor Louise Porter, the deputy director of Griffith University’s Criminology Institute, will soon release a report examining the circumstances surrounding 58 police shooting across Australia.

She said police shootings in Australia were still comparatively rare, making it difficult to establish a common pattern from the low sample rate.

“Even the slightest fluctuation seems like a big deal because we’re coming from such a low base,” she said.

“But there are some broad patterns that we’ve observed, usually involving people at high levels of mental distress, under the influence of substances and with impaired decision-making.

“These are difficult situations that police are faced with and in almost all cases these situations escalate very quickly.

“In a lot of cases police have no information on the situation they are entering into and the likely level of risk and then all of a sudden they are faced with someone brandishing a weapon and running at them.”

Other experts, such as former Ottawa police chief turned Canadian senator Vernon White, currently contributing to discussion at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, says the community’s expectations of police exceed what they are equipped to handle.

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“There is growing pressure being placed on police to focus not on traditional police work, like investigating organised crime and protecting order in the community. Instead, police are increasingly called upon to perform what are essentially mental health care interventions,” he wrote last month.

“For decades now, the mental health system has been unable to meet this growing demand for care. Australia’s collective response has failed to build enough capacity or capability to manage risks and deal with this demand.

“Brought about by a shift in mental health care from institutionalisation to community-based models, people experiencing mental illness now encounter police much more regularly. When this happens, things don’t always go well.”

Police Minister Mark Ryan told reporters in Brisbane on Wednesday that the circumstances surrounding police shootings were complicated.

“Frankly, I don’t think you can bundle them all together and say they are happening for the same reason at the same time,” he said.

“Our police are very well trained when it comes to the use of force and obviously, they do a very dangerous job.”

O’Gorman told InQueensland it was possible to reduce rising bad outcomes from police operations, citing efforts in revising protocols for high-speed vehicle pursuits that were introduced in 2006 and further tightened in 2011 and 2017.



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