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Community Affairs References Committee - 28/08/2015 - Violence, abuse and neglect against people with disability in institutional and residential settings

LOCK, Sergeant Susan, Investigations Supervisor, Special Crimes Investigation Branch, Victim Management Section, South Australia Police

PETERS, Detective Inspector Charmaine, Operations, Special Crimes Investigation Branch, South Australia Police

WIESZYK, Detective Superintendent Mark, Acting Officer in Charge, Serious Crime Coordination Branch, South Australia Police


CHAIR: Welcome. I understand information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses and evidence has been provided to you all. Correct?

Det. Supt Wieszyk : We did receive documentation explaining that, yes.

CHAIR: Thank you for coming. It is very much appreciated. We made the comment to the department that state police and government agencies are not always able to come, so we really appreciate it when you can come. Do you have any comments to make on the capacity in which you appear?

Det. Supt Wieszyk : I am currently acting as the officer in charge of the Serious Crime Coordination Branch. My normal role is officer in charge of the Special Crimes Investigation Branch and that has been the case since December 2014.

Det. Insp. Peters : My normal role is operations manager of that branch, but I am currently relieving as the officer in charge of the Special Crimes Investigation Branch. I have been with that branch since September 2013.

Sgt Lock : I am the investigations supervisor of the Victim Management Section within Special Crimes Investigation Branch. I have worked in this area of policing, child protection and victim management, for about 25 years.

CHAIR: I invite you to make an opening statement and then we will ask you some questions.

Det. Supt Wieszyk : The following comment from SAPOL is provided for the purpose of assisting the inquiry. SAPOL has a lead role in investigating allegations of violence, abuse and other offences against all community members and recognises that people with a disability, particularly those with an intellectual disability, can be more vulnerable to victimisation and abuse. Assistance for vulnerable persons, particularly those with complex needs, must be provided to support those persons to enter and remain within the criminal justice system. The victim management section within the Special Crimes Investigation Branch supports investigators in the provision of expert investigative interviewing and statement-taking, including the management of victims and witnesses with complex and significant intellectual and cognitive disability.

Prior to 1 July 2014, the victim management section focussed on the taking of statements and the management of victims of a sexual assault. Since that date, the role of the section has broadened, with the section established to assist vulnerable persons in a wide range of investigations. Members of the victim management section have undertaken disability skill-set training with Minda SA and the Special Crimes Investigation Branch has also recently promoted Minda SA throughout SAPOL by fundraising through the exhibition and sale of art work in the foyer of our police headquarters and the promoted fundraising event which attracted the attendees from across government agencies.

The victim management section is not directly responsible for all incidents of abuse or violence involving people with a disability but will provide assistance where the victim's disability is of such complexity that it requires the assistance of a specialist interviewer. The Special Crimes Investigation Branch has not been referred any specific investigations relating to institutional abuse involving violence towards a person with a disability. However, members of the victim management section have been assisting in the taking of statements for a variety of offences from vulnerable persons with complex disabilities whether they are in a care facility or in a residential setting.

SAPOL has been a key contributor to the disability justice plan and is the lead agency for a number of key priorities. SAPOL is represented on the disability justice plan advisory group. In this forum, SAPOL are the key stakeholders in the procurement of specialist training in effective management and interviewing techniques. An internal SAPOL steering committee has been established for the purpose of overseeing the implementation of the disability justice plan priority actions. Appropriate representatives from relevant services at SAPOL will progress the priority actions.

In supporting the key priorities within the disability justice plan, SAPOL has been a major contributor and supporter for the draft 'Supporting vulnerable witnesses in the giving of evidence, guidelines for securing best evidence'. The establishing of a vulnerable victims unit, which is the victim management section with specialist investigating interviewers, has been implemented. SAPOL has also provided comment and support for amendments to the Criminal Law Consolidation (Sexual Offences—Cognitive Impairment) Amendment Bill 2014, which has been passed, and the Statutes Amendment (Vulnerable Witnesses) Bill 2015. SAPOL is also a key contributor to the development of a volunteer model for the communications assistance scheme. In recognition of the importance of giving vulnerable persons a voice within the criminal justice system, SAPOL acknowledges the importance of training of specialists and awareness training of all police, including front-line police.

There are currently three volunteers in SAPOL with disabilities. Two of these are role players for the training of police cadets at the Police Academy, one of whom has been undertaking this role for at least five years and the other for three years. SAPOL has commenced the process of replacing the agencies disability action plan with the disability access and inclusion plan and the officer in charge of the equity and diversity branch sits on the disability access and inclusion plan steering committee, which is chaired by the executive director of Disabilities SA.

Senator MOORE: Thank you for your evidence and also for the work you have obviously put into this process. We just heard from the department, as you know, about specialised training, which is an integral part of any response in this area. Can you give us any idea from the perspective of the force what you identify as the needs that are required for training and also your expectations for how that could work effectively across a state like South Australia?

Det. Supt Wieszyk : I assume that you are talking about the specialist investigative interviewing training.

Senator MOORE: The specialist training in terms of the disability plan and the natural engagement but also in terms of the experience that so many of your officers would have already. This is not new, and there would be people out there who already have a lot of experience. How are you planning as a force to look at these particular needs of specialist training, how it would operate and how the culture around the issue of disability will be addressed?

Det. Insp. Peters : I can answer that and may get Sue as well to talk about the initial part; but, to give you an idea: there are different levels of training within SAPOL starting right from the recruit level, where they have various ranges and modules in their training. From the recruit level, we then go into front-line policing training, which they are taught over a six-month period in their training modules. I can go into those in detail, but I will just give you an outline. From that training, we also have a two-week intensive investigative interviewing course to talk to different people. We have a number of components and modules in respect of talking to people with disabilities and also talking to people who do not just have intellectual disabilities or cognitive impairments but hearing disabilities, mental incapacity and the wide range of issues they talk about. That is your mid-level training.

We also do specialist CRB rules, particularly for advanced investigators. We also have the detective training course, where the Commissioner for Victims' Rights actually comes and produces a number of modules and sessions. We have outside agencies come in as well. Then we go into Sue's area, which is quite specialist training, where they have already done a number of courses aligned with Deakin University in terms of interviewing vulnerable persons.

If you want, I will give you an outline of the types of training we have from our recruit level to give you an understanding.

Senator MOORE: We have limited time, so we might get some of that on notice, if possible, about the levels and components that are there.

Det. Insp. Peters : Sure.

Senator MOORE: You already have that as the basic system, and it would be interesting to get some more information from your area. I am interested even at this early stage in the thought processes in the police force about the need for the extra training that the plan has clearly identified. There has been an identified need because in the justice system there has been not the greatest engagement with people with disabilities—for a whole range of reasons but as a systemic thing. There seems to be in South Australia this general commitment to make a difference and be a leader in this space. What do the South Australia Police expect you will be required to do? I would also like to know what your links already are with the representative groups for people with disabilities. I would imagine that, if you do have incidents with someone with a clear need for help, you already have some form of linkage to talk with people, so I would like to know what you have currently got. Does that make sense?

Det. Supt Wieszyk : Sure. Maybe, from the investigative interviewing perspective in the justice disability plan, there has been a procurement process that both Charmaine and Sue have been involved with. They worked with a representative from our police academy who manages the curriculum area to go through what type of needs we would have in the context of that training to be able to inform AGs to then produce the tender documentation that was required.

Senator MOORE: A bit of an audit about what is already happening?

Det. Supt Wieszyk : Yes, and the sort of things that we would want. You could probably explain further the types of things we were looking for in the training.

Senator BILYK: Are the training models imported from somewhere else, or have they been specifically developed?

Det. Insp. Peters : These are specifically developed in consultation with Disabilities SA or a relevant group like the Commissioner for Victims' Rights. There is lots of consultation, and it is built very much specifically for SAPOL. Those modules have evolved over a period of time. A number of modules have been implemented for probably more than five years, and they develop them every year as part of a review. Now, for example, we would deal a fair bit with the Brain Injury Network for acquired brain injuries or injuries incurred from substance abuse. We would deal with the public advocate a fair bit when we are dealing with persons, particularly to maintain them within the criminal justice system. To answer the senator's question from earlier: one of the main things we have found is maintaining and keeping people with a disability within the criminal justice system. We do have representation of limited victims because of their inability to give evidence with the way the current system works. As a result, we probably have more offender representation of people with disabilities than we would have with victims or persons who are witnesses. I think that has been one of the key things for us as an organisation to try to bring down the barrier a little bit more. We do have a fair number of people staying within, particularly with sexual offences, where we find it very hard to extract information from them, whether it is sexual abuse or any other type of serious offending, because of what is required for us to be able to put them through in terms of giving evidence, cross-examination or anything of that nature. That has probably been one of the biggest barriers we have seen. That is where the training comes in to try to elicit a bit more of that information so that we can present a good brief to the courts in terms of finding some resolution for that person—or justice, for want of a better word.

Sgt Lock : I will speak about the different levels of training. As Inspector Peters mentioned previously, training in investigative interviewing begins right at recruit level. There is a level that is taught to them at an appropriate level. It is a five-day training session. It would be unlikely that, once a recruit graduates, that person would be interviewing a child or a person with a disability. It quite clearly says in our general orders that, if you are going to interview a child under the age of 12, you have to have completed the interagency child protection course. Then, as Inspector Peters also mentioned, there is the detective training. There is the investigative interviewing course. That is a more intense course which runs for two weeks. On that course they teach free narrative style of questioning and they also teach conversation management, which is interviewing suspects.

The interagency child protection course is run four to five times a year and is designed for SAPOL and staff from Families SA. There is a two-day component for SAPOL personnel only, and following that there are six days. There is a TAFE component. During the TAFE component there are modules dedicated to interviewing techniques. That interviewing is presented or has been developed by Professor Martine Powell from Deakin University. It is an evidence based model. It is a very good interviewing technique. Although it focuses on interviewing children around four to 12 years of age, you can use this model for any subject to elicit information on any topic. Consider that it is very difficult to elicit information when interviewing a child of the age of four, so to base that model around that age group makes it easy to interview adults. We quite often use that model for adults who do not have a disability. It is just a very good, easy model.

From that, the victim management section has had the opportunity in past years to take part in the advanced practice in forensic interviewing, which is a six-month distant-learning course with Deakin University again based on the model of Martine Powell. This course was offered until about 2010 for SAPOL people, but then it went offline for modifications. With the expectations of specialist training being provided as a result of the justice disability plan, we have not put people through that course since about 2010.

CHAIR: Does that mean you are updating that process or coming up with something new because of the new plan?

Sgt Lock : It depends who wins the tender. We are waiting for that. Then our new members will undertake that training. I should say all of our members, even those who have previously done the advanced interviewing and forensic interviewing of children, will have to redo it. That was the biggest thing. You need ongoing training. You need refresher training. You need constant assessments and feedback so you do not fall back into bad habits. It is always continual learning. I think that is what we are hoping for with this specialist training. There is not a lot of research in interviewing people who are nonverbal; but, hopefully, working with the training provider, we can come up with recognised techniques.

Det. Supt Wieszyk : We have also been working with Minda as well.

Sgt Lock : Yes, we have had the opportunity to work with Minda. It was less about learning about disabilities and more about preparing for work with people who have a disability, maintaining an environment to empower people with a disability, learning about their rights—their rights to services, being included in the community and the contribution they make to community—facilitating community participation, maximising participation and work with people with disabilities, client support and supporting positive lifestyles. That was very beneficial for the members of the victim management section.

On the specialist training: we are hoping that all the victim management people will be provided this training and then there will be up to 50 SAPOL people per year. There will be selected persons in the local service areas and other specialist areas so, when it may not fall within our area to do the interviewing, we can call experts in other areas.

Senator MOORE: And that will cover the regional nature.

Sgt Lock : Most definitely.

Senator MOORE: Including the APY lands.

Sgt Lock : Definitely. We have victim management offices on the APY lands.

Senator LINDGREN: I have a question around training modules. Are they compulsory, or were they used as promotional tools? After a recruit goes through the academy training and they become a front-line police officer, is training compulsory or part of special development, or is it used as a promotional tool?

CHAIR: I will repeat what I think you said for clarity due to speakers muffling you. I think you said that, after the training at the academy, when they are front line, what process is then part of their professional training.

Senator LINDGREN: Yes. Or, was it only done as a promotional tool to go into CIB or into prosecutions or something else?

CHAIR: Did you understand that?

Det. Supt Wieszyk : Yes: was there compulsory training for the general police? There was compulsory training on disability awareness, which was online training for all of the organisation. There is also within our incident management and operational safety training courses an online component prior to doing the two-day face-to-face training, which is all about operational safety, and that is current. There is a component in there on dealing with people in different ways, including communication with people with intellectual disabilities and other issues. That is compulsory for every member from constable to superintendent, so we all have to do that. They are the two main areas, apart from the training that is included in all the other courses that occur.

CHAIR: I want to take a bit of a different tack now. Superintendent, you made the comment—if I understood what you said correctly—that you do not investigate abuse or violence in an institutional setting. Do I understand that correctly? Can you just take me through that comment? I think I may have misunderstood what you meant.

Det. Supt Wieszyk : I think what I read out there was that we have not been referred any specific investigations in an institutional setting, but that does not mean that when a person has reported a matter that they have not lived in an institution or a residential facility and been a victim of some sort of offence, whether it is an offence of violence or an offence of fraud, in the case of scams, and when that report is taken it is taken in their name as the victim, with their address, but it is not necessarily an institution that comes up as the victim.

CHAIR: Yes, I understand what you are saying. Could you take us through this. And it is a bit hard to ask, because I realise that the new vulnerable witnesses act has only just started. The justice plan has been in place for a little while now, but key components of that are just locking into place now. There are still tenders out. Could you take us through how the system is starting to operate now and how you see it operating into the future? I am thinking about this from a victim's perspective: how are things now going to work for a victim when they first contact someone? It may not be you that they first contact; it may be an advocate, or somebody they trust—not meaning to imply that they would not trust you, but I mean somebody they know and already trust.

Det. Supt Wieszyk : Absolutely. I should probably point out that the victim management section is a corporate asset, so to speak. In that context, corporately, our members are aware that if they have victims with special needs or complex needs then the go-to area is the victim management section, to be able to assist in the interviews and dealing with the victims, building a rapport and that sort of thing. The staff within that section are excellent at what they do. They are really excellent, led by Sue.

I think since the victim management section has sort of broadened its scope since July last year something like 94 or 95 people with disabilities have been dealt with through that section. But there would have been others who have been dealt with through other areas, in the local service areas, by investigators who are dealing with victims with disabilities that may not be as complex. These investigators are also available to provide advice, particularly in the rural or country areas. From that perspective, the management of victims or witnesses living with disabilities has come a long way, because of the advice and the expertise available to assist them.

In terms of how we will be progressing with the Disability Justice Plan, we are putting together a steering committee. We have already advised all our relevant or appropriate services that we want senior people as part of that. The requirements of the Disability Justice Plan really require a corporate-wide response. We want to make sure the right people are implementing the right things across the organisation by being part of a steering committee internally to progress the priority actions of the plan.

CHAIR: Is the steering committee made up of just the police? Or are you talking about interagency?

Det. Supt Wieszyk : Interagency. The three of us sit on the advisory committee, with A-G's and the disability—we do sit on that. But what I was talking about is now actually taking the priority actions that we need to take and setting up a committee within SAPOL to make sure the right people are actually progressing particular actions to do with training and the other things that need to occur.

Det. Insp. Peters : Perhaps I could just add to that that SAPOL has been given 13 priority actions from the Disability Justice Plan. From that, the assistant commissioner of the crimes service chairs the steering committee, and there is a representative at an inspector level to sit on that steering committee, and they have their allocated actions that they need to attend to, which we started, so that all the actions are implemented within the time frames of the plan, because the plan goes only until next year, until 2016. The aim is to have all the actions implemented before the conclusion of the plan.

CHAIR: You are probably not aware of this, but yesterday we had the Cross-Disability Alliance giving evidence. They made 30 key recommendations, but they prioritised three, and one of those three was reform to the justice system. I think it is fair to say that you are the state that is most advanced in having a plan in place and recognising the significance of the issue. Having priorities in place is fantastic. Are there any other questions?

Senator MOORE: No. I think we are in this wait-and-see mode as the new plan is being implemented. But I do have a question about hearing. We follow up with hearing, and hearing loss, a lot in this committee. I am interested in techniques in interviewing—whether the particular issues of people with hearing loss are covered.

Sgt Lock : I think our unit is concentrating mainly on intellectual disability and communication impairment, and when I say communication I mean impairment of language, such as someone with cerebral palsy. For hearing impairment, if you are skilled in interviewing it is by using an interpreter. If somebody was not competent and capable out in the local service area and required our assistance then we would definitely take on that matter.

CHAIR: I thought I would not go there, but now that we are there: this committee is particularly interested I hearing; we had an inquiry a number of years ago—so now we are experts!—and some of the issues that came across really strongly were issues around hearing and interacting with the justice system and failure to actually understand hearing loss or even recognise hearing loss. The evidence we received was that quite often police and others interpret someone's not replying to questions and certain behaviours as uncooperative when in fact the person cannot hear. I must admit that we had a lot of evidence about that.

Senator MOORE: And they do not identify.

CHAIR: No, they do not identify. In fact, they themselves in some circumstances do not realise that they have a hearing impairment. Hence our deep interest in this. I am wondering whether that is recognised—the fact that it is a significant communication barrier. It may not be recognised.

Sgt Lock : I can draw on one matter where a person does have a hearing disability and has their own style of communication. They have developed that with a support worker. In that instance we would have to use the support worker, and that is what we do. It is about respectfully interviewing people with a disability. It is not just about bringing the person in straight off and interviewing them; it is about getting to know them and getting to know their communication style. It might take several visits before you would even look at doing a formal interview. With people with speech impairments we would have to sit and learn—I often say 'get the ear'—how to communicate with them. You would go and visit them. You would not talk about the offending but about an innocuous event or what they like in life, or football, and learn to communicate. The same thing happened with this person who had a hearing impairment—sitting with them and getting to know them, getting that rapport and learning how they communicate.

CHAIR: Thank you for your time this afternoon. It is very much appreciated.

Proceedings suspended from 15 : 33 to 15 : 49