In March 2015 IBAC received closed-circuit television (CCTV) footage from Victoria Police showing the alleged mistreatment of a woman in custody in the cells of the Ballarat Police Station in January 2015. IBAC subsequently commenced an own motion investigation named Operation Ross.
The investigation expanded to examine:
- incidents involving alleged excessive use of force against other people at the Ballarat Police Station
- Victoria Police data which indicated the complaint profile of Ballarat Police Station was a cause for concern (including the over-representation of sergeants in complaints)
- the response of senior police managers at the divisional level, as well as Professional Standards Command (PSC), to that concern.
Front line policing can be extraordinarily challenging. Operational police officers regularly deal with potentially volatile people and situations, frequently exacerbated by drugs, alcohol, and/or mental illness.
Notwithstanding such challenges, Operation Ross exposed the casual disregard and at times mistreatment of a vulnerable woman in police custody. The other cases examined by IBAC also showed excessive force used against three women in the public foyer of the Ballarat Police Station. All incidents were captured on CCTV; interestingly the presence of CCTV cameras did not appear to deter some officers from questionable conduct.
The investigation also highlighted shortcomings in a number of Victoria Police policies and practices including in relation to probity around promotions, interventions when an officer has multiple complaints, and compliance with strip search policy.
As a result of Operation Ross, IBAC recommended Victoria Police consider whether or not charges should be brought for common assault (or other equivalent charges) in relation to the first case study concerning person A. A number of other recommendations have been made which relate to improving Victoria Police policies and practices which were identified as deficient.