Sunday, October 12, 2008

A State of Corruption in Australia

Lives put at risk by corrupt police who leak information to crooks

LIVES are being put at risk by "festering" cells of corrupt police leaking information on confidential investigations to criminals, Victoria's police corruption watchdog has warned. Officers in the corrupt cells are "culturally influential" in the force and can exploit the common practice of police sharing inside information on investigations to big-note themselves to their mates. Information traded by corrupt police to criminal associates damaged investigations, and "in extreme cases lives can be, and have been, put in jeopardy", the Office of Police Integrity warned.

In the OPI's annual report, tabled in parliament yesterday, director Michael Strong said that in some instances inside information about investigations was being sold to criminals or traded in return for favours. "At other times, the information-sharing arises between individuals who have a longstanding relationship in which loyalty to the individual appears to replace loyalty to Victoria Police and to the police officer's oath to uphold the law," Mr Strong says.

Victoria Police was rocked late last year when it was revealed in sensational OPI public hearings that details about a top-secret underworld murder investigation were allegedly leaked from senior levels within the force to the main suspect. Confidential information was also leaked about police informer Terrence Hodson shortly before he and his wife, Christine, were murdered in a cold-blooded underworld execution in 2004.

Mr Strong said corrupt police often promoted the image they were high achievers, but actually did little productive work. "They regularly flout organisational rules and regulations and avoid accountability because of their cultural influence," he said.

But attempts to clean out the force were being hampered by a "code of silence" and a tendency for police to close ranks or turn a blind eye, including lying to OPI corruption hearings. "Too many police witnesses required to answer questions under oath in OPI hearings seem willing to sacrifice their credibility rather than break the code," Mr Strong said. "I am gravely concerned at the apparent disregard some police have for the oath or affirmation to tell the truth when they give evidence. "Perjury is a serious crime."

A growing awareness within the force of the investigative techniques used by the OPI, including telephone intercepts and other electronic surveillance, was making it more difficult to catch corrupt officers. As a result, OPI operations were becoming more complex and increasingly required the use of covert investigative tools.

Mr Strong said the improper handling of criminal informers by police was a potential opening for corruption, with officers failing to register their sources of information, as required. "Streetwise criminals may be adept at manipulating some police," Mr Strong said. "Access to a piece of the action may pose too great a temptation for unethical police."

Overuse of physical force on suspects was a problem, with an estimated 70 per cent of such cases not reported. Twenty per cent of complaints against police involved assault allegations.

Mr Strong recommended that a criminal offence of misconduct in public office be introduced. Assistant Commissioner for ethical standards Luke Cornelius acknowledged corruption was a problem, but said it was restricted to a small minority of officers. "The critical point for us is that we have to break the code of silence," he said.

Corrupt police clinging to the "old ways" needed to realise it was only a matter of time before they were caught and prosecuted. "There's nowhere to run, there's nowhere to hide," Mr Cornelius said.

Original report here. (Via Australian Politics)

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

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