Police Shoot, Kill 5: Coroner’s Recommendations Implemented

The Queensland Police Service has responded to the Coroner’s recommendations from the inquiry into the deaths of –

  • Anthony William Young
  • Shaun Basil Kumeroa
  • Edward Wayne Logan
  • Laval Donovan Zimmer
  • Troy Martin Foster

The Coroner adopted all three of QAI’s recommendations in our submissions, namely, for:

  • The revitalisation of the Mental Health Intervention Project and the delivery of annual mental health training for all operational police
  • QPS training scenarios that involve people with lived experience of mental illness
  • A focus on high-level communication skills and counselling experience for police officers, including 000 call-takers.

We are pleased to see that the QPS is implementing the Coroner’s recommendations, although a few are still ‘under consideration’.  In particular, with regard to Recommendation 14.

“The Queensland Police Service retain mental health training as a core component of the recruit and first year constable training programmes.
The mental health training component enables participants to identify and understand characteristics of impaired mental capacity; to understand and appreciate the policing with influence model for verbal de-escalation in a policing context; and to apply effective communication skills for responding to and managing situations where a person presents with an impaired mental capacity in accordance with legislation.”

Queensland Advocacy Incorporated and the Queensland Coronial Inquiry into Police Shootings of People with Mental Illness (2)

The Coroner granted Queensland Advocacy Incorporated ( Q.A.I. ) leave to appear in this Inquiry as a ‘specialist advocacy group’ that has a ‘sufficient interest’ pursuant to s36(1)(c) of the Coroners Act 2003 (Qld) (‘the Act’).  The Coroner recognised QAI’s expertise in systemic issues and we confined our involvement to recommendations in relation to the death of Laval Zimmer making submissions about matters on which the Coroner may comment under section 46(1), including:

(a) public health or safety; or

(b) the administration of justice; or

(c) ways to prevent deaths from happening in similar circumstances in the future.

Queensland Advocacy Incorporated instructed Frank Walsh for the ‘fact-finding’ or ‘investigative’ stage of the Inquiry, and Steven Jones for the ‘recommendations’ phase.   Consistent with our expertise in mental health, and with our early submissions about questions to be raised at the investigative phase, QAI made recommendations in relation to the following two issues:

    • Issue 6:  The adequacy and appropriateness of QPS policies, procedures and training in relation to police dealing with mental health incidents, including the adequacy of the availability of information/records from Queensland Health, and other medical practitioners, regarding mental health history of persons to the QPS;
    • Issue 12: QPS policies, procedures and training for Police Communications personnel.

 

1.    Background to the Shooting of Mr Zimmer

Owing to a tragic communications bungle, five Queensland Police Service (QPS) officers entered Laval Zimmer’s suburban share-home at Kippa-Ring on Brisbane’s north-side at 1.00 am on 24 November 2014 to investigate a ‘nuisance’ caller.   Two officers shot Mr Zimmer as he stood in the doorway to his room, allegedly with a knife raised in his hand.  Mr Zimmer fell face down into the hallway.  Officers immediately cuffed Mr Zimmer’s hands behind his back.  He died minutes later.

Mr Zimmer was on the phone to QPS’ Policelink service when he was killed.  He was making a complaint about police conduct earlier that day.  Described in the Courier Mail as a ‘loyal and lovable mate’ looking to secure long-term housing and finish his high-school education, Laval also had chronic epilepsy and mental illness.

 

2.    Mental Illness

The other four men shot dead by police also had mental illness.  Police spend on average around ten percent of their time dealing with people who appear to be mentally ill. Some estimates have this figure as high as twenty percent. Interviews with mental health consumers have uncovered a perception that police fear them, and fear prompts police to pre-emptively escalate conflict.

The Coroner has since determined that the attending officers were acting lawfully, but QAI’s view was and always will be that Laval Zimmer’s death could have been avoided if the police had better communications systems in place and had better Operational Skills and Tactics training in mental health.

3.   Submissions to the Coroner

Queensland Advocacy Incorporated’s  pro bono barristers Frank Walsh and Stephen Jones examined witnesses and made submissions at the ‘fact-finding’ and ‘recommendations’ phases of the Inquiry throughout 2016 and early 2017.   Our submissions recommended more and better training for police about disability and mental health, including:

  • The revitalisation of the Mental Health Intervention Project and the delivery of annual mental health training for all operational police
  • QPS training scenarios that involve people with lived experience of mental illness
  • A focus on high-level communication skills and counselling experience for police officers, including 000 call-takers.