What is the context of police and court diversion in Victoria and what opportunities exist for increasing police diversion of offenders?

David Cowan

Superintendent, Victoria Police

Over 10 years since 2007/8, the combined number of adult and child offenders being diverted by police and courts has reduced from 22,098 cases to 18,165 cases. Over the same period, the rate of police diversion of adult offenders has reduced by 42%, police diversion of child offenders by 41% and adult court diversion by 50%. Over the same period, the number of adult offenders charged by police has almost doubled and is projected to triple over the next 5 years.

There has been a ‘hardening’ in the way in which police dispose of adult and child offenders, with an increased use of bail/remand, a reduction in support for diversion and the use of bail in one in three cases where an offender receives court diversion. Court sentences relating to child offenders at the same time have reduced in seriousness. The author suggests that legislative hardening of bail laws, a pro-arrest and pro-bail philosophy by police management and a ‘tough on crime environment’ have influenced police discretion away from diversion.

There is a lack of celerity in court diversion cases with cases taking 375 days from offence date to completion of the diversion conditions, compared to traditional cases that take 291 days on average. Court diversion cases have 4.0 hearings compared to 3.7 hearings for traditional cases.

Out of cases proven at court, 56% of cases result in a non-conviction finding of guilt, indicating the potential for an increase in police diversion of offenders.


David Cowan has been a member of Victoria Police for 29 years and is Superintendent within the Southern Metropolitan Region of Melbourne.  He has led a range of organisational reforms including the establishment of the first Family Violence Command in Australia as well as the formation Counter Terrorism Command.  He led the organisational reviews of persons in custody and crime scene services.  He has experience as a police prosecutor and a detective and more recently has overseen the drug and alcohol, victims, crime prevention and research portfolios.  He is an Executive Member of the Australia New Zealand Society of Evidence Based Policing and is bridging the gap between academia and policing in Victoria.

Australia & New Zealand Society of Evidence Based Policing

The Australia & New Zealand Society of Evidence Based Policing (ANZSEBP) was formed in April 2013 in Brisbane, Australia. The ANZSEBP is a police practitioner-led Society. The mission of the ANZSEBP is to develop, disseminate and advocate for police to use scientific research (“the evidence”) to guide best practice in all aspects of policing. The ANZSEBP Chairperson serves on the Executive Board of the British Society of Evidence Based Policing, ensuring that the ANZSEBP works cooperatively with an international group of police to advance evidence based policing.

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