‘Unrealistic Targets’ Leading To ‘Crisis’ Culture Of Falsified Roadside Breath Tests

Questions around quotas set upon officers have re-emerged following revelations Victoria Police falsified over 250,000 roadside breath tests.

“If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck.”

That was the message from the Secretary of Victoria's Police Association on Thursday following revelations officers had faked more than a quarter of a million roadside breath tests over a five-and-a-half year period.

Questions of quotas and performance targets within the police force have re-emerged since the new head of Victoria Police’s Professional Standards Command, Assistant Commissioner Russell Barrett, confirmed the “widespread” falsification of more than 258,463 tests and its largest-ever overhaul of workplace culture.

Victoria Police Assistant Commissioner Russell Barrett addresses the media on Thursday.

“The question we all asked was why? There could be a number of reasons but the main rationale I believe is to hide or highlight productivity,” he said.

“Whatever reason our workforce may have come up with, it isn’t acceptable.”

Do police quotas exist?

Victoria Police Association Secretary Wayne Gatt condemned the activity but said its members across the state were facing “unrealistic” targets every day.

“Our members are given targets out in the street to meet. It’s those targets that we think, in part, are leading to this crisis,” he said on Thursday.

“At the end of the day, our members are told to do 50 PBTs, 30, 100 PBTs …. 20 on this shift and another 50 on this shift,” he said, referring to internal memos outlining quotas for roadside breath tests that were shown to reporters.

Barrett had denied that Victoria Police sets quotas at a local level but said “if local managers set targets for members, then that’s a matter for a local areas”. 

When pushed, he said he did not know about specific quotas, but admitted that "certainly and in principal" quotas would be set at a local level.

The issue of falsified tests was first brought to light when Victoria’s Transport Accident Commission (TAC) queried anomalies in data late last year, where a number of tests were conducted in quick succession.

An internal investigation found about 1.5 percent of 17.7 million had been falsified, with Former Chief Commissioner Neil Comrie brought in to oversee the next stage of the investigation.

Police Association Secretary Wayne Gatt speaks to the media on Wednesday.

“We need to look at this in some context and give it some perspective,” Gatt said.

“Our members for years have talked about the under-resourced environment they are operating in. This is being felt most in the exact locations that this enquiry is pointing to.

“They are the most depleted work units in Victoria and yet these are the areas that are being asked to take the greatest load from some of these really high enforcement targets.”

Quotas and targets across the country

Suggestions of quotas are not uncommon, with police forces around the country being accused of imposing quotas on officers requiring them to meet targets for arrests, breath tests and drug offences.

In 2011, a leaked internal email revealed South Australia police officers were expected to meet a quota for the number of arrests, drink driving reports, traffic and drug offences in a five-week period. 

Most recently in 2015, Queensland Police denied officers were told to issue at least ten traffic fines per shift as part of the trial of a new electronic ticketing system. 

“There is a history to this,” Queensland Police Commissioner Ian Stewart said on Thursday.   

“In 2007, Queensland Police went through a similar type of allegation and investigation,” he said, referring to allegations officers similarly faked alcohol breath tests to meet a quota of drink driving checks.

"It’s critical that the community has confidence that we have their best interests at heart."

“The reality is, and what we have done over time -- certainly since 2007 -- is invested in equipment that assists our officers to make sure they’re always doing the right thing.”

Commissioner Stewart conceded benchmarks exist for road safety policing, with this year’s target being “in the three million range”.

“All police agencies have target levels for the number of RBTs we do. This is tied to the number of registered motor vehicles and licensed drivers on our roads -- it’s a formula that is worked out by road safety experts,” he said.

“We are not going to meet (our target) this year, because of the constant pressures of our people brought on by all of the other things that we do.”

But he said “community safety” was paramount.

“That’s why we do these RBTs and RDTs. It’s critical that the community has confidence that we have their best interests at heart," he said. 

In Victoria, Gatt said he hopes the investigation will restore police  discretion.

“I think there is a good case to say that the current system is having negative outcomes,” he said.

“Clearly targets are set -- whether they are set by the government or with a genuine altruistic desire to see a best practice.

“But at the end of the day, what our members need are targets that are realistic."