NSW police watchdog waiting nearly a month on average to access body-worn camera footage

Exclusive: Law Enforcement Conduct Commission does not have direct access to video database, with wait times causing delays to investigations

The watchdog that investigates misconduct by the New South Wales police force has been waiting almost a month on average to access body-worn and in-car video footage following critical incidents.

Guardian Australia can reveal that under existing arrangements, members of the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission (LECC) are forced to wait an average of 27 days to access crucial videos and audio clips, causing delays to investigations.

The LECC raised the issue in its most recent report to parliament, noting its investigators were unable to see “numerous items used by the NSWPF to determine misconduct matters” without a lengthy application process.

The material is stored within a restricted police database and the LECC can only successfully apply for access if it relates to a complaint made to the commission or a complaint already on the police complaints database.

The revelation comes as the NSW police force faces increased scrutiny following the deaths of Clare Nowland, Steve Pampalian, Jesse Deacon and Krista Kach – four vulnerable people who died after being shot or Tasered by officers in as many months.

Advocates for reform have highlighted other incidents, including the violent arrest of a young Aboriginal man with disability in Taree after he was thrown to the ground while handcuffed, as reported by the Guardian in August.

The government has also been facing calls to improve police oversight and reform the way emergency services respond to people experiencing mental health crises.

Asked about the access issue this week, a spokesperson for the commission confirmed delays were adding weeks to investigations.

“The commission does not have direct access to the NSW police force database where videos are stored,” the spokesperson said.

“Under the current arrangements, it takes an average of 27 days for the commission to be given access to electronic materials by the NSW police force.”

Following discussions, the police and the commission have brokered a new arrangement that should enable investigators to get “much faster access to the electronic materials which are used in misconduct matters”, due to begin next week.

“The new arrangements to access electronic materials are sufficient, although direct access to the NSW police force database would be ideal,” the LECC spokesperson said.

The commission warned in its report there would likely be an increase in complaints relating to body-worn camera videos “with technological advancements” and said access to the database would reduce delays.

It received more than 5,000 complaints and conducted 78 investigations in the 12 months to July 2022.

The agency also monitored 129 critical incidents. Critical incidents are defined as interactions with police resulting in serious injury or death.

A recent open letter to the premier, Chris Minns, from a coalition of prominent lawyers said they were “disturbed by the recent tragic shootings and use of force by NSW police”.

Minns said this week he was open to reforming the systems “if change is required”.

But the premier has repeatedly refused to back calls for an inquiry, saying “where there are regrettable cases, they are brought to light. There is very strong independent oversight of law enforcement officers in NSW.”

Police would not comment on the matter other than to confirm that a new process has been agreed to.


Tamsin Rose

The GuardianTramp

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