Police Authority and Accountability in Australia

Last Updated: 15 Mar 2023
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Police officers in Australia, as well as worldwide, have been consistently accused of abusing their authority over the years. Police officers are known to protect and serve and to be the law enforcers of the land, but due to the reality that some human beings are concerned about self-satisfaction and lawlessness, police authority can often times be misconceived as abusive and aggressive.

The powers of the police are consistently being scrutinized by the media, the community and even politicians, not to mention that police are, and not just in Australia but worldwide, held as one of the most accountable in society (Robertson, 1998). In order to essentially resolve these issues, the focus of the research should be related to police officers and specific issues such as use of force, police discretion, delegation of authority and the attempts that were made to control officers behaviours’ in Australia.

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What Is Police Authority?

Firstly, authority can be defined as generally and basically, Persons having power or powers that other people will not naturally be allowed to have. Bringing this definition toward linking it to police authority, this is where the police officer has legal power of enforcing laws, and at all times should be given the respect, because they are the gate keepers of society, our “guardian angels” who will be watching over us twenty four seven.

For example, we are to respect our parents; they care for us and provide for us our basic needs, I believe that police officers are somewhat the same because they provide us the citizens with safety and when there is a problem we can run to them at many times. Although police authority maybe a good thing, there are also the pit falls with it, in that, there is the abuse of police authority.

Some officers due to “bad apples” meaning some officers are dirty cops, because of greed and selfishness, also some officers believe that they are above the law, because they enforce the law, but I believe in the “eye for an eye” theory: if you do the crime, you should do the time; no one is above the law.

What Is Police Accountablility?

Firstly accountability is It is a fundamental principle of a democratic society that the police should be held to account for their actions. Accountability includes both what the police do and how they perform.

What an officer does or how they do what they do is extremely critical in the world of policing. The entire concept of police accountability revolves around these two criteria, which according to how efficient they are executed, may make or break an officer’s policing career. Agency-level accountability involves the performance of law enforcement agencies with respect to controlling crime and disorder and providing services to the public (National Institute of Justice, 1999). Individual-level accountability involves the conduct of police officers with respect to lawful, respectful, and equal treatment of citizens. walker, 2007). I honestly believes that police accountability should be very vital within policing. Officers should be held accountable for their actions like any other individual.

Police Authority in Australia

In Australia the authority and powers of the police services are clearly defined and understood by officers, these powers are being tested by the courts and even the police themselves, the police know the limit of their authority and powers, but at sometimes politicians, legal professions and even the community are reluctant to greatly alter those powers.

Hence the reason why officers may have to use force, law enforcement officers are authorized to use force in specific circumstances, officers in Australia are trained as any other police officer worldwide, but the matter of the issue is how much force to use, this is referred to as police discretion. Authority and abuse needs to be differentiated, because they are not at all supposed to be equal to the same thing. Generally, the way in which the police may maintain social order successfully is mainly in alignment with the use of force exercised by the police officers.

Many people, citizens of Australia and even the world, here the term use of force being used consistently, whether it may be via the media or directly from a police officer, but what does the term really mean? Use of force is simply and basically the amount of force that is required of a police officer to ensure that an unwilling offender complies with the law enforcer (National Institue of Justice, 2012). Where it is unnecessary to use brute force, a police officer ought to refrain from so doing. An officer can use force in ifferent ways, either verbally or physically; also it may be less lethal or lethal (National Institue of Justice, 2012). Even as it remains that the police officer in Australia has the right to use force where necessary, how then do we determine when he should use which method of force, and how to deal with an offender on the whole? Police discretion is used often times when it comes to more of the minor offences, such as alcohol use and urination, but one major encounter in Australia in which police discretion ought to be used is in relation to people suffering from mental illness.

Police discretion though, can be influenced by either personal relationships, or race or status, which ought not to be so, but realistically is it. There was one scenario in which a police officer encountered a cafe proprietor who had a traffic violation. The officer in this scenario, decided not to give the driver a traffic offence notice due to the relationship that had developed from before.

Although many other officers agreed with the officer’s decision to exercise gratitude toward the violator, this is not a welcoming and promising prospect for the future of law enforcement on the whole. Police discretion can be altered and affected by many other factors surrounding an offender in society. An unwilling and unruly suspect has a higher risk of being arrested than one who cooperates with the officer. Also, the police records of an offender may also influence the decision of the police.

Even with relation to juvenile, police discretion can be altered but not by the juvenile themselves. The parents or Guardians of the juvenile may weigh in heavily on the decision and discretion of the police officer. In the case where the parent or guardian may be uninvolved or uncooperative, the officers may be led to take a different approach to the handling of this situation (Holmgren, 2012).

Police Accountability in Australia

The face of the matter remains, and one which makes complete logical sense, is that whatever a police officer does, he/she need to account for it.

Police in Australia, however, have been given a sense of discretion and freedom to fulfil their roles in society without too much interventions of any judicial or supreme official (Lewis, 2012). Police are not to be seen as independent and totally able to do as they will by members of society, which is not at all the case. Police usually have to consult the judiciaries in the commission of enquiry pertaining to accountability for their actions or allegations, but what prompted this move by the Government?

Police in Australia in the past; have been accused for many different things, such as police corruption, inefficiency and brutality. These falls of the police officers are not overlooked by the judiciary, and even though police are the protectors of society, they are very liable to punishment and sanctions for their wrong if it is not properly accounted for (Lewis, 2012). Police accountability has over years become viewed as more of a problematic issue than that of an encouraging one.

One of the major ongoing disturbances in Australia’s society is the case where civil litigation is constantly overlooked as a form as accountability (Ransley, 2007)what exactly is civil litigation? Well, civil litigation is where someone is accused of doing wrong, but not necessarily a crime, and it is formally submitted to a court (Honeyman, 1999-2010) In fact and very evident to the world today, there have been many cases in Australia, in which persons have been involved in disputes with police officers for doing wrong yes, but not crimes.

The reality that the purpose of civil litigation is to settle and attain some form of compensation for being wrongfully accused or dealt with, makes civil litigation a very critical aspect that should more than likely be incorporated in the field of Police accountability mainly because it is a form of correction, just that it is from the civilian stand-point (Ransley, 2007).

If in fact, the intent of the more recent police reform is directed toward the strengthening and to some extent upgrading of the individual and organisational accountability, then that makes civil litigation a very fundamental, effective and also it should be, a mandatory component in the effective completion of this goal. Attempts to control the behaviour of police officers are not only affected by civil litigation, but also by the measures in which police officers are dealt with for misconduct.

Without the emphasis on the errors of police officers, the police force may adapt to the conditions which could lead to the abuse of their powers and authority. The lack of consistent correction of officers often times may lead to the diminishing of confidence in the community in the police service (Perez, 2008). Internationally, this have become the evident scenario in the present society, as the trust and corporation between Police officers and communities is rapidly becoming a thing of the past, and this have been ighly influenced by the lack of legitimate duty and procedures by police officials. Officers have confrontations of a sort among their own organisations because of the corrections that they may face having the issue to argue that to balance the leniency of misconduct and the harshness of crimes is difficult to manage (Perez, 2008). A common observation presently is that since authority is delegated rather than chosen gives police officials the opportunity to select the appropriate officers to do the reputation and compatibility with the relative scenarios at hand.


Whether it may be the favourable opinion to some, or the contradicting bias to others, Policing authority and accountability is one of the fundamental aspects of efficient law enforcement. In the case where any of the two may fail or fall short in any aspect, there will always be a conflict in the relationship between Law enforcement and community, and also it may serve as the catalyst for the diminishing status of the police force.

From the use of force, to the correction of police officers by their own organisations, the main concept is to ensure that the standard and reputation of the Australian law enforcement department. There have been a lot of complaints geared towards or targeted at the police officers, but in fact as much as the reality is that they do make some really uncharacteristic errors, they do uphold the law relatively efficiently.

This is just another reinforcing point that the society at large tends to make judgements, especially toward individuals and systems within the law enforcement sector based on their benefit and fair treatment. Whether or not the case would have been that police officers in Australia abuse their powers or not, the comparison of the rate in which civil litigation is turned away and how vast the difference is between the corrections that the police officers correct citizens to how intense and consistent the punishment and corrections of officers themselves are, would have still caused some sort of rift within the system.

Nothing, it seems can truly be completely satisfying and totally effective, and especially in a world where crime and deviance, because of the continuous introduction of laws and stereotypes via media interventions and other sources, the balance between being lenient and modest in terms of acts of misconduct, and being harsh and enforcing in situations that are more serious, or crimes, is very difficult to assess. The fact remains that o matter where the police system is today, in Australia, and even worldwide, the law enforcement sector cannot afford to cease from continuously modifying and developing their efforts and adaptations to the criminal advancements in society.


  1. Holmgren, L. (2012, April 12). Factors that affect police officers' discretion. Retrieved April 5, 2012, from ehow: http://www.ehow.com/list_5960237_factors-affect-police-officers_-discretion.html
  2. Honeyman, C. (1999-2010). Civil litigation. Colorado, United States of America.
  3. Lewis, C. (2012, May 5). Police, civilian, and democratic accountability. Monash, Australia.
  4. National Institute of Justice. (2012, January 20). Police use of force. Washington, D.C., United States of America.
  5. Perez, M. R. (2008, August). Police discipline and community policing: New models. Los Angeles, USA.
  6. Ransley, J. A. (2007). Civil litigation against police in Australia: Exploring its extent, nature, and implications for accountability. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology (Australian Academic Press), 143-160.
  7. Robertson, D. (1998). Public and private policing: Issues and options for collaboration within Australia. Sydney: n/a.
  8. Walker, S. (2007, May). Police accountability: Current issues and research needs. Police Accountability, p. 4.

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Police Authority and Accountability in Australia. (2016, Dec 16). Retrieved from https://phdessay.com/police-authority-and-accountability-in-australia/

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