We found a number of significant weaknesses in how Police monitors compliance with licence conditions. In particular, Police inspections are not prioritised and carried out based on assessed risk, there is limited reporting of outcomes to management, and internally set inspection targets are not met. We also found that Police does not recover deceased estate and expired licence firearms in a timely manner. A risk-based monitoring and compliance program is key to effective regulation.
Regulatory compliance activities are not risk-based
Police carries out limited compliance and inspection activities, and when it selects licences for inspection, this is not based on a documented assessment of risk. Further, despite Police’s annual inspection targets being low, it did not meet them in 3 of the last 4 years (Figure 4). In 2017-18, it only inspected 788 out of a target of 1,050 firearm owners and 35 out of 50 dealers and repairers. Police did not provide us with documented reasons for how it sets its targets or how it prioritises its inspections.
Figure 4: Number of Police inspections – firearm owners, dealers and repairers
Inspections are critical to ensure licence holders comply with their licence conditions and securely store firearms. Police told us that resourcing constraints and other priorities contribute to them not meeting the targets.
We found most inspection activities focused on licence holders in the Perth metropolitan area, who were available during office hours. Police were unlikely to inspect licence holders in the regions or those that were not available during office hours. However, we did see evidence of Police inspections in metropolitan Perth and the regions as a result of public or industry complaints, or intelligence.
The current approach to inspections limits the number of licence holders that can be inspected. We found:
- less than 1% of regional licences have been inspected despite about 56% of licence holders being in the regions
- 30% of current firearm dealers had no record of ever being inspected, with most located in regional areas. We identified 1 dealer that had not been inspected in 48 years.
Our 2009 audit recommended that processes for planning and conducting inspection activities should be improved through a risk-based approach. This would allow Police to better target inspections of licence holders using available resources.
Inspection procedures and processes need improvement
Staff have limited guidance on how to interpret the Regulations and assess compliance during inspections, and inspections are poorly documented. Inspection procedures have not been updated since 2013. This increases the risk that non-compliance will not be identified.
Police has not developed appropriate guidance to help staff assess licence holder compliance. For example, the Regulations do not define or provide guidance on what constitutes secure storage for a dealer during opening hours or a secure safe passcode. Without appropriate guidance, staff have to apply significant judgement. This increases the likelihood that inspections will not be conducted consistently and efficiently, or identify non-compliance.
Our high level review of over 2,500 inspection records found many instances of missing or poorly recorded information. The ability to assess the effectiveness of Police’s inspection program and take follow up action is limited. We found:
- information is inconsistently recorded in free text
- the specific Regulation breached is not recorded
- inspection outcomes were often not recorded
- dates of follow-up inspections were often not recorded
- outcomes were not reported to management to help inform future compliance activities.
We also found there is no guidance on when non-compliance should be followed up, increasing the risk that non-compliance will not be appropriately actioned.
During the audit, Police advised it is transitioning inspections and outcomes records to the L&R system.
Police is slow to recover firearms
Police does not have a target timeframe to recover firearms that belong to deceased estates or expired licences, nor does it report on the time it takes to recover them. We found Police is slow to follow up and recover firearms and take appropriate action. People without a licence may gain access to firearms if Police does not recover them in a timely manner.
There were 705 deceased estate cases from 2016 and 2017. Our review of 37 cases showed 20 had unrecovered firearms.
We reviewed a different sample of 39 deceased estate licences for the average time it took to recover firearms and found:
- it took Police 150 days on average to secure the firearms from when it was notified of the licence holder’s death
- two cases took between 3 and 4 years for Police to close. In the first case, the firearms were eventually recorded as lost, and in the second, the firearms were sold in another jurisdiction 18 months before Police found out.
Police told us it tries to notify the licence holder’s next of kin that the firearm must be re-licenced, sold or handed in, but may not follow-up when it is difficult to locate the firearm.
Police is slow to follow up expired licences. We found it takes at least 6 months from the time an infringement is issued for Police to actively follow up to see if they need further action. The Regulations require Police to issue an infringement 3 months after a renewal is not paid.
At the time of our audit, Police told us there were 345 licences that had been expired for 3 to 12 months. A further 72 had expired for at least a year and the firearms had not been recovered. Failure to follow up expired licences in a timely manner increases the risks that firearms will be lost, stolen or that an unlicensed person will keep them.
Police advised that it has not improved the process as expired licence holders are of reduced community safety concern compared with an unlicensed person.