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Respect for Rights of Witnesses

Witnesses (including informants) have a moral and (usually) a legal right to protection. Accordingly, there is a duty of care in relation to witnesses, including police officers. Such a duty of care might involve referring officers to an internal witnesses support unit. Aside from duty of care considerations, there might be a need to afford protection to witnesses in order to prevent an investigation being compromised. Internal investigations of police by police are especially prone to breaches of confidentiality and ‘interference’, including intimidation. Witnesses also have other rights, including the moral right to privacy. As we saw in Chap. 5, an empirical study of officers in Victoria Police revealed that officers are often reluctant to provide evidence in relation to their corrupt colleagues because they believe that internal investigations are highly likely to fail in part because of breaches of confidentiality and the failure adequately to protect witnesses and the like. Furthermore, when investigations do fail officer-witnesses may be treated as outcasts by their colleagues and their careers ruined (Miller et al. 2008). Infringements of witnesses’ rights can, of course, be investigated and witness protection programs can be evaluated, including by interviewing those who have made use of them. The broader cultural issue in a police organization with respect to police attitudes and behavior towards police who act as witnesses against other police can be empirically investigated. What measures are taken to counteract unwelcome attitudes and unacceptable behavior toward police witnesses can also be the subject of scrutiny. For example, do many internal affairs investigations of serious offenses result in convictions or resignations and, if so, are these results promulgated to the rank of file?

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