An investigation into the widespread faking of roadside breath tests by Victoria Police officers has found the practice was driven by “meaningless” targets that were at odds with the force’s own road safety strategy.
An internal police investigation revealed in May last year that more than 258,000 breath tests were estimated to have been falsified by officers in order to return negative readings.
Officers were either placing a finger over the straw entry hole of breath testing equipment, or blowing into the straw themselves.
The Transport Accident Commission (TAC) suspended $4 million in road safety funding in response to the issue, which prompted police to order an independent investigation.
New recruits taught to fake tests
That investigation, run by former chief commissioner Neil Comrie, has found that the practice of faking preliminary breath tests (PBTs) was an “ethical failure” and had been a long-running practice in the force.
An executive summary of Mr Comrie’s report released by Victoria Police today said the practice was “widespread, impacting all regions and road policing operations and of longstanding duration”.
The report found that despite the faking of PBTs being widespread, there was “no evidence” that any senior officer at Victoria Police Command was aware it was occurring.
“It has been a common experience for new recruits to be inducted into the practice early in their careers through instruction from more experienced members,” the report said.
However, the report found the “root cause” of the practice was the force management’s imposition of a target which stated that 99.5 per cent of all PBTs would return readings that showed drivers were not in excess of the legal alcohol limit.
“[The target] creates the perverse situation that proactive drink-driving law enforcement that achieves more than 0.5 per cent positive PBT tests annually is regarded as not meeting the required budget performance outcome for PBTs,” the report said.
The target, which was set in the Victoria Police budget, was regarded as “meaningless and unachievable” by many officers and had “no reasonable or scientific basis”, according to the report.
Problem may extend beyond Victoria
It said many officers felt that the targets were at odds with their role in keeping the community safe as they were effectively being “instructed to avoid detecting impaired drivers”.
The report also said that while it was initially estimated that 258,000 tests were faked, there was “no credible means” of accurately quantifying the number.
“It is probable that the number of these false tests may be significantly less than the initial estimation of 258,509,” the report said.
The report said the targets were also not “in accordance” with Victoria Police’s own road safety strategy and recommended a revision of the way TAC funds were used.
The investigation also found that fake breath testing is a problem “not confined to Victoria alone” and that similar incentives could be affecting the integrity of drug testing.
The report made 23 recommendations, all of which have been accepted by Victoria Police.
Mandatory ethics training
Assistant Commissioner Stephen Leane said the report’s recommendation for mandatory ethics training for all officers at least every two years would be followed.
He also said Victoria Police would review the targets set around breath testing in order to ensure they are “evidence-led and achievable” for officers.
“Over the next six months or so we’ll be working with government and our road safety partners to make sure that we get the balance right for those targets,” he said.
The report found falsifying roadside breath tests did not constitute a criminal offence, but Assistant Commissioner Leane said an internal investigation into the issue was continuing with oversight from the state’s anti-corruption body.