Victorian police faked more than a quarter of a million roadside breath tests in what appears to be a deliberate ruse to dupe the system.
An internal investigation has found 258,000 alcohol breath tests were falsified over 5½ years, The Age has learned.
It represents about 1.5 per cent of the 17.7 million tests that were conducted in that time.
Police believe officers may have been blowing into the breathalysers themselves, most likely due to laziness and the need to meet targets.
The new head of Victoria Police’s Professional Standards Command called it a breach of the community’s trust.
“I’m confident to say that number [258,000] were falsified,” Assistant Commissioner Russell Barrett said.
“It’s terrible. It’s terrible behaviour when we’re the leader of road safety in the state.”
The Transport Accident Commission were the first to raise concerns to Victoria Police after they found an anomaly in data late last year, Mr Barrett said.
It sparked an audit of the past 5½ years of data from the breathalysers.
Mr Barrett said the audit found a suspicious number of breath tests were being conducted in quick succession.
Normally, there should be some space of time between each test to take into account an officer on the road talking to a driver and breathalysing them, before moving on to the next car.
But the faked tests were occurring one after the other.
This suggests two things: an officer is either placing a finger over the straw entry hole or they were blowing into the straw themselves.
Force command don’t yet know why some members were doing this, but it could be laziness, pressure to meet quotas of road tests or a combination of the two.
“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. Whatever reason our workforce may come up with, it isn’t acceptable,” Mr Barrett said.
Mr Barrett said it had not led to wrongful fines or prosecution of people in the community, given that no driver was actually tested.
But, he said, there was no “sugar-coating” that the force had let the community down.
“No one can be falsely prosecuted, but it’s still terrible, terrible behaviour. The community trusts us to do our job and we trust our members to do that job,” he said.
There is no particular station or area where the con was occurring.
“It’s widespread,” Mr Barrett said.
But, it is believed general duties and highway patrol members were largely responsible, with some rural areas overrepresented.
It was not a practice found at supervised drug and alcohol bus testing sites.
Governance, controls and audit functions to support preliminary breath test (PBT) compliance and monitoring will be implemented immediately, police said.
Technicians are also investigating how to tamper-proof the devices.
“In moving forward we are looking into a number of options for improving and increasing our internal controls and accountability in regard to our testing regime,” Mr Barrett said.
“We are considering the feasibility of regular audits, the ability for the PBT to include the detail of the operator and quality assurance in relation to the issuing and distribution of straws.”
But because the devices aren’t assigned to individual officers, it may be impossible to find out which police officers were falsifying the tests.
“Due to the extended timeframe of data analysed and many variables within the complex data set, including members who may have moved on from a work location, what will occur is that workplace guidance will be provided to all workplaces across the organisation,” Mr Barrett said.
Up to 4 million alcohol tests are conducted on drivers every year, according to a previous police statement.
Victoria Police were planning to tell the public about the stuff-up early next week after gathering enough information to go public, Mr Barrett said.
Command had begun informing other organisations, such as the government and the Transport and Accident Commission, of what they had so far found this week.
TAC chief Joe Calafiore said they were “made aware of anomalies” in the results.
“We have received an initial briefing from Victoria Police with a further comprehensive briefing to occur,” he said.