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The Police Association has been seeking automatic name suppression for police officers involved in critical incidents for nearly 20 years, and is hopeful that this year it might finally happen.

Backing has come from both sides of the political spectrum to change the legislation. Police Minister Stuart Nash has indicated he’s interested in taking the matter further, and National’s police spokesperson, Chris Bishop, has drafted a private member’s bill on the subject.

The issue has been on the association’s agenda since 2000, when police shot and killed Steven Wallace in Waitara. The name of the officer involved was made public, even though he was then, and subsequently (in a private prosecution by the Wallace family), cleared of wrongdoing.

The member and his family were subject to a high level of harassment and public scrutiny, and the officer eventually left Police.

Each shooting is followed by intense investigation and scrutiny by Police, the IPCA and the Coroner’s Court. In all incidents, police action has been found to be lawful, but fear of identification has become an overwhelming concern for those officers involved, adding to the already challenging burden of taking a life in the line of duty.

Currently, it is not against the law to publish the names of officers involved in critical incidents, but most media follow the convention of retaining anonymity.

As association president Chris Cahill has pointed out, in the age of Google and with the rise of social media there is now renewed urgency to get that convention enshrined as a law that applies to the media and the public. The association seeks more certainty for members.

“Police officers have no choice but to go forward and respond to violent offenders to protect the public,” he said. “Officers and their families should not have to face a lifetime of ill-informed judgement when they have been found to have acted lawfully.”

The association wants legal assurances in place so no officers involved in critical incidents will have their names made public during the processes that follow, unless a member is charged. In that case, an application would need to be made for name suppression.

Mr Bishop’s proposal would provide for automatic suppression (including addresses or any other identifying details) while investigations are under way and in the Coroner’s Court. An officer’s name could be made public only after criminal charges were laid.

However, an exemption could be granted, “upon application to the Chief Coroner”, if the information was deemed to be in the public interest.

Mr Bishop has said he hopes all parties will support his bill if it is picked from the member’s ballot.


Above: Police Association President Chris Cahill believes officers and their families should not have to face a lifetime of ill-informed judgement when they have been found to have acted lawfully.

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