Thursday, 27 October 2016
Policing in Australia sometimes seems like a tale of violence, sexually predatory behaviour and racially motivated assault - not on the part of street criminals but on the part of police themselves
The Age, 23 October 2016:
More than a third of all Victoria Police officers who appealed dismissals or demotions in the past two years were disciplined because of predatory behaviour towards women, including family violence victims, colleagues, and women who were vulnerable or in care.
A senior constable was found to have preyed on five women, one officer exposed himself to staff, a 44-year-old had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl, and several officers, including a Police Academy trainer at graduation celebrations, vulgarly propositioned women.
Almost exactly two years ago, former Chief Commissioner Ken Lay confronted troubling attitudes towards women within Victoria Police head-on when he announced a Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission independent review into the force.
But an analysis of Police Registration and Services Board review hearings shows the extent of this culture in stark detail.
The board hears the appeals of those who are disciplined by the internal police investigation unit, Professional Standards Command.
Unless an officer appeals to the board, or is charged with a criminal offence, details of the behaviour which led to their dismissal is rarely made public.
The board started publishing its decisions in 2014.
Police Registration and Services Board review decisions can be found here.
Some recent examples……
Taking advantage of a vulnerable female
02/09/16 Review Decision A92/2016:
DECISION The Board acknowledges the strong work record of the Applicant, his lack of any malicious intent and accepts that he would be unlikely to engage in such conduct in the future. However, a consideration of all of the factors set out above, especially the public interest in maintaining community confidence in Victoria Police, weighs strongly in favour of dismissal. Vulnerable members of the public must be able to seek help from the police force without any risk that they will be vulnerable to further harm from those entrusted to protect them. Having considered all the material and the submissions made, and after having regard to the public interest and the interests of the Applicant, the Board is not satisfied that the Inquiry Officer’s decision to dismiss the Applicant was harsh, unjust or unreasonable. Accordingly, the decision to dismiss the Applicant stands. The Board publishes these reasons for decision pursuant to Section 154A, subject to the redaction of the material in Appendix 1. The Board directs that the material in Appendix 1 not be published or communicated beyond the parties and their representatives. For the Board, all members concurring.
Making unwelcome sexual advances to a female public servant and publicly exposure himself
19/08/16 Review Decision A43/2016:
DECISION Having considered all the material and the submissions made, and after having regard to the public interest and the interests of the Applicant, the Board is not satisfied that the Inquiry Officer’s decision to dismiss the Applicant was harsh, unjust or unreasonable. Accordingly, the decision to dismiss the Applicant stands. Pursuant to the provisions of s.154A of the Act the Board proposes to publish these reasons. For the Board, all members concurring
Assault of a member of the public
29/06/16 Review Decision A26/2016:
DECISION Having considered all the material and the submissions made, and after having regard to the public interest and the interests of the Applicant, the Board is not satisfied that the Inquiry Officer’s decision to dismiss the Applicant was harsh, unjust or unreasonable. Accordingly, the decision to dismiss the Applicant stands. Pursuant to the provisions of s.154A of the Act these Reasons for Decision are to be published. For the Board, all members concurring.
Just in case anyone is under the impression that police conduct is of a higher standard in New South Wales because we see fewer published misconduct reports, I remind readers that on 7 March 2013 New Matilda reported:
In just the past few years we have seen case after case with compelling prima facie evidence of police brutality and excessive use of police force. However not a single case has resulted in a police officer being either demoted or dismissed, let alone charged with assault or another criminal offence. It is worthwhile at this point recalling just some of the incidents that have sparked community unrest in the past few years.
In November 2009 police were called to the home of Adam Salter by his dad. Salter was mentally ill and harming himself with a sharp knife in the kitchen. It was a frightening and dangerous incident. The most senior officer on site called out "Taser! Taser! Taser!" before shooting Salter dead with her glock pistol. What looked like a terrible tragedy and mistake was internally investigated by police. That police investigation cleared police of wrongdoing and the officers involved were in fact promoted.
When the coroner reviewed the matter (pdf) she found much of what the police had alleged was "simply not true", other parts were "almost entirely wrong", "a failure and a disgrace". The Salter’s family lawyer described it as "a whitewash" and "a cover up". Since then the Police involved have been the subject of an Ombudsman review and a Police Integrity review. Years have passed and no-one has been held to account for the tragedy.
In February 2011 Bugmy, an Indigenous man, was at his grandmother’s home in Wilcannia. When police entered he was holding a knife. His partner took that off him. He knelt on the ground with his shirt off and his hands behind his back. When he wouldn’t lay face down on the floor, police tasered him multiple times.
A magistrate found this unreasonable and excessive use of force. An internal taser review by police cleared the officers of any wrong doing. You can see the disturbing footage yourself and make up your own mind. Despite criticism from the Ombudsman, no disciplinary action has been taken against the police involved.
In January 2011 Cory Baker, a young Indigenous man, was taken to the Ballina Police Station where he said he was seriously assaulted by a group of police. An internal police investigation and report was produced. The police investigation cleared police and concluded that Baker had assaulted them.
At trial, deeply disturbing CCTV footage of the police viciously assaulting Baker was eventually produced as a result of an order by a local magistrate. The charges against Baker were dropped. These events are only now being investigated by the Police Integrity Commission. It has now come to light that a senior officer told at least one junior officer what to write in his statement for the internal investigation. That version was blatantly false. Again no disciplinary action has been taken against the officers.
In March last year a young Brazilian man, Roberto Curti, died after being handcuffed face down on the ground and repeatedly capsicum sprayed and tasered by police. Again, an internal police review produced no recommendations for any disciplinary action by the police involved. The Coroner found the attempted arrest of Roberto involved "ungoverned, excessive police use of force." The Coroner found numerous police gave untruthful accounts (pdf) of what occurred on the night.
Curti’s case was the subject of a further critical finding by the Ombudsman. The Ombudsman’s report found (pdf) that the internal police investigation was procedurally flawed, failed to consider the lawfulness of the police actions and failed to properly analyse the police use of force. To date not one officer has been charged or disciplined as a result of Curti’s death.
Just this week a further disturbing case has emerged of a police officer at the Mardi Gras throwing 18-year old Jamie Jackson to the ground on Oxford Street and then roughly placing a foot on his back. The young man appears dazed and bleeding as a result of the force with which he struck the pavement. Jackson says he was just crossing the road and did not deserve to be assaulted.
The police have said that they are holding an internal inquiry into the incident that will establish the truth of what happened. Increasingly no one believes this. As the short summary above shows, there are exceptionally good reasons to doubt the capacity of police investigating police to get to the truth in these cases.
There is an inherent conflict of interest whenever we have police investigating themselves. This cannot be resolved until NSW has a single independent police review body which is sufficiently resourced and has its own officers undertake all critical incident reviews.
While on 11 September 2013 SBS News reported:
Corey Barker, 24, was taken into custody in January 2011 after attempting to help two friends in an aggressive street confrontation with police in Ballina. Details about his arrest have emerged in a damning Police Integrity Commission (PIC) report, tabled in parliament on Tuesday.
It found officers slammed Mr Barker into a bin and a chair before swinging him into a machine. He was then forced to the ground before being kicked in the head and kneed in the side.
"The police treatment of Barker can fairly be described as violent," the report said.
Mr Barker was handcuffed and dragged along the floor on his stomach by his arms to a cell where he was left in handcuffs for more than 90 minutes. "This method would have been acutely painful and was brutal," the PIC said.
It found constables David Hill, Lee Walmsley, Ryan Eckersley and Luke Mewing used excessive force against Mr Barker.
They were also found to have lied about the arrest, along with Senior Constable Mark Woolven and former sergeant Robert McCubben, who was medically discharged from the force last December.
The matter came before the PIC after Mr Barker fronted the courts in 2011 charged with the assault of Const Hill.
All six officers gave evidence Mr Barker punched Const Hill in the face while being walked from a holding cage to a cell.
But the assault case was thrown out after CCTV footage - at first thought to have been damaged - showed Mr Barker had in fact been the victim of a police attack. Police were ordered to pay his legal costs.
Commissioner Bruce James has recommended all six officers engaged in misconduct and should be considered for prosecution under the Crimes Act.
Then there is this from Sydney Criminal Lawyers on 22 June 2015:
Police brutality is not just limited to fatal shootings. We recently wrote a blog about 16-year-old Aboriginal girl Melissa Dunn who was arrested by police for resisting arrest and hindering police. CCTV footage of the incident showed police officers brutally tackling the girl outside a McDonald’s restaurant in Sydney’s CBD, before her head hit the gutter and she was rendered unconscious.
A children’s court magistrate later found Melissa ‘not guilty’ of the charges and criticised police for using an ‘inordinate amount of force’ during her arrest. Melissa tragically ended her life just three days after her trial ended.
We also reported on the highly-publicised case of the young, slightly-built young man who was slammed to the ground during the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras by a heavily-built police officer. It seems that this brazen officer was undeterred by the presence of several members of the public, some of whom were filming the incident. The list goes on.
Such cases indicate that issues of police brutality and excessive force are a cause for concern in Australia, despite consecutive attempts to reform the law and redress these injustices.
Later that same year ABC News reported this curious fact on 24 September:
Internal investigations into deaths and serious injuries during police operations have not resulted in disciplinary action against any officer.
The figures, tabled in NSW Parliament, reveal that between January 2013 and August this year, 62 critical incidents were investigated by police.
Two adverse findings were recorded against a police officer in one case, with the officer given counselling. No disciplinary action was recorded against police in any of the 62 cases.
The figures were provided by the Government in response to questions on notice put by Greens MP David Shoebridge.
It will be interesting to see if the new NSW Law Enforcement Conduct Commission (LECC) due to become fully operational in 2017 will even make a dent in entrenched police culture in this state.
Those NSW police officers who perform their duties diligently, with compassion and goodwill must sometimes wonder when senior commanders are finally going to get their act together and weed out those violent and predatory individuals they must rub shoulders with in the force.
On 21 December 2016 Senior Constables David Hill and Mark Woolven, Constables Ryan Charles Eckersley and Luke Christopher Mewing, Probationary Constable Lee David Walmsley and Sergeant Robert Campbell McCubben were acquitted in the NSW District Court of assaulting Cory Baker at Ballina Police Station in 2013.
In June 2016 Sergeant Sheree Bissett, Sergeant Emily Metcalfe, Senior Constable Leah Wilson and Constable Aaron Abela were acquitted of perjury in the NSW District Court in relation to the shooting death of mentally ill man Adam Salter in the family home in 2009.