Friday, October 31, 2008

Australia: Systematic bashings by police squad

But only a slap on the wrist as punishment

A high-level probe has found many former members of the armed offenders squad believed bashing criminals was a "community service". The Office of Police Integrity director, Michael Strong, said members of the scrapped squad had a disproportionate number of complaints compared with all other Victoria Police squads.

In a report tabled in State Parliament today, Mr Strong also said some squad members believed they were a "force within the force" and that they considered themselves above the law. "The armed offenders squad should be regarded as a cultural relic within Victoria Police," he said. "Too many of its members believed that 'the end justified the means' and that bashing a 'crook', was a community service. "The squad, through a lack of appropriate monitoring and accountability within Victoria Police, was allowed to develop its own culture, out of step with the organisation's direction. "Its members drew comfort from the strong support they received from the Police Association."

The OPI secretly bugged an armed offenders squad interview room in 2006 and filmed squad members committing assaults. Chief Commissioner Christine Nixon scrapped the elite squad within weeks of a July 2007 OPI raid on the squad. Disgraced ex-squad members Robert Dabb, Mark Butterfield and Matthew Franc initially denied it was them caught on the secret OPI camera bashing a suspect. But each of the former detectives this year pleaded guilty to assault and misleading the OPI director. They were sentenced to intensive corrections orders involving community work, education and training of between 17 weeks and 22 weeks.

Mr Strong said the OPI's investigation into the armed offenders squad exposed wider problems than just the assaults committed by three members. "Lack of a stable and strong middle management clearly contributed to the fact that an unhealthy squad culture was able to continue unchecked," he said. "The absence of a stable leadership and lack of diligent supervisors gave squad members 'free rein' to use whatever policing methods they liked. "There are indications that the informal squad culture had gained such strength and impenetrability that the chain of command was effectively reversed, to the point where some squad members considered themselves immune from managerial accountability or authority."

Mr Strong said the OPI investigation exposed a flagrant disregard by some squad members for suspects' rights. "Covert audiovisual footage obtained in the course of the investigation depicts a brutal and sustained physical assault by three former members of Victoria Police as well as a purported welfare check by a squad inspector that failed to protect the suspect," he said.

"The report explores how the absence of effective management can create an environment where some police feel justified in acting outside the law in a so-called 'noble cause', to get a 'result'. "It highlights the alarming willingness of some police to lie on oath or turn a blind eye to protect themselves or colleagues.

"Victoria Police acted swiftly to disband the armed offenders squad once evidence that appeared to substantiate allegations of assault emerged. "Replacing the squad with a task force model has produced positive outcomes. "Not only has there been a significant reduction in complaints against detectives working in the area, but arrest and conviction rates have also improved."

The OPI report reveals the old armed offenders squad only solved 47 per cent of cases between July 2003 and September 2006 whereas the new armed crime task force has a clean-up rate of 80 per cent. There were 31 complaints lodged against armed offenders squad detectives in that 39-month period, compared with only two against task force detectives in the 18 months from September 2006.

Original report here. (Via Australian Politics)

(And don't forget your ration of Wicked Thoughts for today)

No comments: