Two tragic deaths in police custody
23 December 2009
The PILCH Homeless Persons’ Legal Clinic (HPLC) expresses its deep sorrow at two deaths in Victoria Police custody within 25 hours.
Last night, a 45 year old man was found to have hanged himself in a cell at the Echuca police station after having been imprisoned for drunkenness. A 29 year old Noble Park man being transported in a police vehicle was found unconscious in Dandenong on Monday night, and failed to regain consciousness.
"The death of any citizen in police custody is deeply troubling and gives rise to the need for swift, rigorous and independent investigation," said James Farrell, Manager/Principal Lawyer of the HPLC. “It is too early to draw conclusions about the circumstances of these deaths, but they do highlight broader concerns around police interactions with people in public spaces, and the investigation of deaths in police custody,” said Mr Farrell.
Last week, new police powers were introduced to “regulate” public spaces, including changes to the Summary Offences Act and the Control of Weapons Act. “Within a week of these powers being introduced, a man locked up for being drunk is found dead in a police cell. The community should be concerned that in rushing to be seen as 'tough on crime', the Victorian Government has not spent enough time ensuring adequate protections are in place to ensure the safety of Victorians in police custody.”
The Dandenong victim was described in today’s media as “ranting and raving and behaving irrationally”. “Many current Victorian laws criminalise poverty, mental illness, homelessness and other so-called ‘anti-social behaviour’,” said Mr Farrell. “These issues demand a public policy response that addresses complex social and economic causes, including lack of access to housing, income support, education and health services. These issues also require a coordinated holistic, integrated, multi-agency approach to addressing individual and systemic disadvantage, rather than merely a police response.”
Both of these deaths are being investigated by police, overseen by the Ethical Standards Department of Victoria Police. “The police are investigating the police, and the community needs to be reassured that these investigations are transparent and accountable,” said Mr Farrell. “These investigations should be overseen by the Office of Police Integrity to address broader community concerns about deaths in police custody.”
Manager/Principal Lawyer, HPLC
(03) 8636 4408