A recurring feature of high profile Victoria Police investigations is the unauthorised release of confidential information or ‘leaking’.
This report sets out the findings of an Office of Police Integrity (OPI) review of Victoria Police’s management of investigations, in particular, the management of ‘high profile’ cases – those cases which attract a high level of media attention.
A recurring feature of many Victoria Police investigations is the unauthorised release of confidential information or ‘leaking’. Although leaks occur when confidential information about an investigation is released by someone involved in the investigation to someone external to Victoria Police, many ‘leaks’ originate from other police who acquire information about an investigation when they do not have a legitimate ‘need to know’ about it. They then wittingly, or unwittingly, pass the information on to a third party.
Any ‘leak’ risks compromising an investigation and diminishing public confidence in police. In some instances, ‘leaked’ information has found its way into the wrong hands and this has caused significant harm to individuals and jeopardised investigations and prosecutions. The publication of confidential investigative material is particularly damaging in the context of managing high profile cases.
On at least two occasions since 2004, key witnesses in prosecution cases against allegedly corrupt police were murdered shortly after press reports indicating their identities were published.
Other recurring themes from the Victoria Police investigations include significant shortcomings in terms of:
• managing the demand for information
• assessing the potential for a matter to attract public attention
• implementing effective investigation management models
• assigning investigative responsibility according to the requirements of the case
• dealing with conflict of interest
• managing media relationships.
In 2006, Victoria Police introduced a Major Crime Management Model that has resulted in improvement in some of the systems and practices for allocating resources to an investigation. There has also been increased awareness of the particular risks associated with ‘high profile’ investigations, with ongoing policy development and training on information security and working with the media.
Despite this increased awareness, the heightened risks inherent in some investigations are not explicitly addressed as a matter of course. A risk assessment, an information security plan or a media strategy are not formally required for all investigation plans. This means consideration of these important factors is dependent on the knowledge, experience and inclination of the police involved in any given investigation.
Drawing on OPI’s experience, this report makes recommendations intended to assist Victoria Police to handle investigations where there is a demand for information and a potential for information security breaches. The recommendations support increased awareness and management of conflict of interest issues. They also support a more accountable, open and transparent relationship between police and mainstream media, with appropriate checks and balances.
As information technology continues to evolve and alternative news media emerge, anyone can be a journalist. Similarly, any police investigation can rapidly become a high profile matter. Police attitudes to information sharing must adapt to this changing environment. Adherence to information security principles must become second nature, declaring and managing conflicts of interest must become the norm and commitment to ensuring the integrity of investigations a shared goal.