Data shows Queensland Police shot more people last year than police in the rest of Australia combined
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Data analysis by 7.30 reveals Queensland Police shot more people last year than police in the rest of Australia combined.
The following story contains language which may offend some readers.
In 2022-23, Queensland police shot 14 people, New South Wales police shot eight, one person was shot in Victoria, one in South Australia, and two in Western Australia.
Across Australia, around a third of the people shot by police survived.
The Australian Institute of Criminology does not routinely provide the data broken down by state jurisdiction, or for the most recent year.
7.30 used a combination of sources to compile the data.
Behind each statistic, there was a life.
Nicola and Darren Gilbert were at home in Mandurah, Western Australia when their lives were forever changed by a 5am knock on the door on October 1, 2022.
Their 24-year-old son Luke had been shot by police in Airlie Beach in Queensland in circumstances that are yet to be determined by a coronial inquest to be heard in Cairns.
"To be honest, it's just indescribable – it's not something you can put into words, other than it's just like you're dead inside. From the second you're told your son is dead, it's just like yourself, you've died," says Darren.
"Because Luke carries when he's camping, and in work gear, he carries a pen knife that's got a 70-millimetre blade. And they've said, 'what's that?' So he's shown them," says Darren.
It was then the interaction rapidly escalated into a deadly confrontation.
A bystander filmed the last few seconds of Luke's life, on the busy main strip of Shute Harbour Road in Airlie Beach.
In these freeze frames, Luke can be seen moving towards the two police officers as they have their guns drawn and are moving backwards. The gunshots ring out as the camera is shifted downwards.
Across the street, a partygoer has his camera turned on himself as Luke is shot dead.
"They just f***ing shot him c**t. I thought they were going to get him with a taser. They f***ing shot him c**t," the man says.
A friend asks him what happened, and the man replies: "I don't know, he just kept walking to the cops."
Luke died from multiple gunshot wounds. Nearby cars on the busy strip were also hit by stray bullets.
A pre-inquest hearing was told Luke shouted at police to shoot him after he had pulled the knife from his belt. He was ordered to drop the weapon, and stop moving towards them, but he didn't.
Luke's parents say their son had battled poor mental health in the past but had since been doing well.
"Being defiant, that was Luke. Yeah, he was defiant," his father Darren says.
"But you know, they never used the taser. They brought tasers in so they wouldn't have to use a gun in a situation like that. And they didn't use it."
On the day Luke died, Police Union president Ian Leavers told a media conference: "Had a taser have been an option, it would have been used but I'm advised on this occasion, it was simply not possible."
The Queensland Civil Liberties Council (QCLC) is calling for a review into the underlying causes of the spate of police shootings.
"We're not attacking individual police, and we're not attacking the police as a whole – but any large organisation that is armed and kills people, whether justified in certain cases or not, must bear scrutiny," says QCLC vice-president Terry O'Gorman.
"It is time that the Queensland Police Service opens up to the necessity to have the coroner and the Crime and Corruption Commission look at this significant peak in shootings and say, 'What can we do? What are the facts? What are the problems?'"
It is a path well-worn in Victoria – a jurisdiction that has previously been the frontrunner in police shootings.
For 40 years, Melbourne crime journalist at The Age John Silvester has reported on Victoria Police's reckoning with firearms, where there's been just one non-fatal shooting in the past two years.
"Back in the 1980s, Victoria was shooting more citizens than the rest of the country combined," says Silvester.
"And each case was looked at in isolation. So it was looked at legalistically: Police put themselves in a situation where they were confronted with an armed offender, they feared for their lives or the lives of others, and they took fatal action. And in each case that was justified, but it's only when they were brought together, that there was a realisation that there was an issue," he says.
The number of shooting deaths was recognised as a threat to public confidence in the police, and Silvester explains that in 1994, Victoria started Project Beacon – a landmark re-training program that focused on de-escalation of conflict and avoiding or minimising police use of force.
"The safety of the police, the public, and the suspect was considered the number one priority," he says.
The project was highly successful in the years that followed, but by the mid-2000s, the number of shootings again increased, and training protocols were once again re-visited.
"Police have to understand the consequences of pulling their firearm and firing a shot. It has to be last resort. They are there to keep the peace, and that's what clearly they want to do," says Silvester.
Monash University Emeritus Professor Jude McCulloch is an academic specialising in the militarisation of Australian policing.
"Although superficially there are similarities between the police and the military, it's really important that they be kept separate, because the police shouldn't approach people as enemies to be overcome," Professor McCulloch says.
"The Victorian Coroner who investigated 11 of these fatal shootings said [police] had developed a 'culture of the gun', as he called it, where police officers exposed themselves to dangers that they shouldn't have if they were using only proportionate and minimum force.
"They put themselves in the situation where using their firearm would be considered legal because it was a shoot or be shot situation – but it was against the ethics of policing in that those shootings were not necessary; and they could have been avoided using less confrontational tactics," Professor McCulloch says.
Around Australia last year there were multiple instances of police being killed and wounded whilst on duty.
In December, two Queensland police officers were murdered at a remote property at Wieambilla. The three individuals responsible were later shot dead by police and are included in the statistics.
In 2014, Silvester made a two-part documentary for the ABC called Trigger Point, that examined the impact police shootings have on the officers themselves.
"That sort of Hollywood view of coppers who can shoot someone dead and then blow smoke out of the gun and holster it and go off and have a beer, it's just not true," says Silvester.
"When you take a life, the circumstances are catastrophic for the victim, the victim's family, for the police officers concerned and there's a ripple effect that lasts a lifetime.
"And the most dangerous job in policing is general duties – that is, the first responders, the police in the van, the police on the street."
Queensland Police did not respond to 7.30 for this story.
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