The Law Enforcement Conduct Commission is also referred to as the “LECC” which is an independent watchdog to investigate corruption or misconduct by authorities such as the NSW Crime Commission and NSW Police. It also overlooks how these authorities handle complaints. The LECC are empowered to conduct its own investigations, and hold examinations with the main purpose of preventing, detecting and investigating misconduct to ensure accountability. It’s role is limited to investigate and monitor matters involving serious misconduct or maladministration. These powers come from the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission Act 2016 (NSW).
Similar to the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), The Law Enforcement Conduct Commission (LECC) is an independent investigative commission. The LECC focuses on potential misconduct or corruption involving the NSW Police Force or NSW Crime Commission.
The commission was established in 2017 and is governed by the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission Act 2016 (NSW).
The LECC’s two primary functions involve the investigation of maladministration involving the NSW Police Force and NSW Crime Commission, as well as oversight of how these bodies handle complaints.
The commission is ultimately empowered to conduct its own investigations and hold examinations, as well as oversee how the NSW Police Force and NSW Crime Commission respond to complaints and conduct internal investigations.
It thus aims to prevent, detect, and investigate misconduct within NSW law enforcement agencies, ensuring that they are held accountable where appropriate.
Any person is able to make a complaint to the commission about the conduct of a police officer, Crime Commission officer or administrative employee involving misconduct or maladministration.
However, these complaints will generally be referred directly to the police or crime commission to be dealt with internally.
Otherwise, the LECC may request that the police or crime commission conduct further enquiries, conduct an investigation themselves including preliminary inquiries, or take no further action.
Notably, the commission is only able to investigate or monitors matters that involve serious misconduct or maladministration.
Serious misconduct is defined under the Act to include conduct of a police officer, administrative employee or Crime Commission officer that could result in prosecution for a serious offence (i.e., any offence punishable by imprisonment for a term of 5 years or more), or serious disciplinary action.
A serious disciplinary action essentially means terminating employment, demoting, or reducing rank, classification or grade or reducing the remuneration payable.
This may involve corruption (i.e., accepting bribes), abuse of power, interfering with investigations, attempting to pervert the course of justice, improper disclosure of information, serious assaults, involvement in criminal organisations, the supply of prohibited drugs, and serious fraud.
In 2021-22, the commission assessed 5,095 complaints and conducted 78 investigations (comprising of 36 preliminary investigations and 42 full investigations).
During an investigation, the commission may compel a witness to prepare and produce a statement of information, as well as any specified document.
It can also hold public or private examinations in which it can examine or cross-examine any witness on any matter that the examining Commissioner considers relevant.
It also has powers to issue search warrants, as well as surveillance device warrants.
The commission has no power to commence prosecution or enforce disciplinary action against officers and can only make recommendations regarding this to the relevant bodies.
These recommendations are ordinarily contained in publicly available reports which are tabled to Parliament and contain the commission’s findings, based on their investigation.
Concerningly, the LECC has face significant cuts to an already underfunded budget, with the state government imposing budget cuts of $6 million over four years, from 2019.
In 2019, it was revealed that the commission was only able to investigate 2% of the more than 2,547 complaints that it began an initial assessment of, due to this lack of resources.
Example Cases Investigated by the LECC
Operation Denali was commenced as a result of allegations concerning serious police misconduct by several mid-ranking police officers at a specialist command.
This resulted in former NSW Police Sergeant, Michael Mannah being arrested over accessing 5,000 images of child abuse material.
Interception warrants were placed on Mannah’s mobile phone and computer, which detected him accessing the images between August 2020 and January 2021.
The LECC investigated the matter, compiling a brief of evidence, which was then referred to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions.
He faced trial in the NSW District Court in 2022 and was ultimately found guilty of one count of using a carriage service to access child abuse material.
Mannah was acquitted of a second charge of possessing or controlling child abuse material.
Judge Ian Bourke sentenced Mannah to one year imprisonment, with a non-parole period of four months, and a two-year recognisance release order upon release.
The images accessed by Mannah included ones depicting physical acts of sexual abuse against children, as well as children posing in a sexualised manner.
The evidence at trial included that he has consistently returned to particular websites showing this content and navigated through the images.
Mannah resigned from the NSW Police Force prior to the matters being heard at court.
In 2022, the LECC found that a NSW Police Officer engaged in serious misconduct over his treatment of a 15-year-old Aboriginal boy.
The officer was found to have flicked the boy’s exposed nipple and made ‘demeaning’ and ‘silly’ turkey noise, whilst the boy was sedated.
The boy was in police custody following an alleged breach of bail.
Police alleged that the boy was verbally abusive to them whilst in the cells, with an ambulance later called due to the boy attempting self-harm.
He was subsequently sedated by ambulance officers and restrained on a stretcher, where a blanket was laid over his face – supposedly to stop him from spitting on the officers.
Whilst the boy’s face was covered, the officer touched the young person’s exposed nipple, repeating this action and laughing with five other officers, whilst making turkey ‘gobbling’ noises.
The incident was captured on CCTV. Prior to the boy’s stretcher being wheeled out of the camera’s sight, the boy is seen smiling at the officer who responded by grabbing the boy by the throat with his right hand.
The LECC found that: “this incident involved disgraceful conduct by Officer KIM4 and all those officers who laughed with and at him. It was conduct that paid no regard to the feelings of the child who was in their custody. No one seemed to remember that Civilian KIM1 was just that, a child.”
However, the commission ultimately recommended that the Commissioner of Police consider taking ‘non-reviewable’ action against the officer, instead of fining or dismissing him.
Non-reviewable action includes actions such as coaching, mentoring, training and development, counselling, reprimand, warning, non-disciplinary transfer and/or a change of shift.
It also recommended counselling and further training for the other officers involved.
This matter was directly reported to the LECC, after a solicitor from the Aboriginal Legal Service submitted a complaint on the young person’s behalf.