Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Australia: Police bullying and intimidation allegations to be investigated

Widespread bullying allegations within Victoria Police have revealed an entrenched culture of intimidation and stand-over tactics, according to its union, which has called for an urgent investigation by Force Command.

On the day Chief Commissioner Ken Lay announced a taskforce to examine claims of sexism and harassment, Police Association secretary Ron Iddles said bullying was "far, far more prevalent", with the union receiving more than 200 complaints over the past two years.

Detective Senior Sergeant Iddles said he had warned Mr Lay that about 10 police stations throughout Victoria had "serious issues" with bullying.

Fairfax Media understands that Altona North is one of the worst affected stations, with eight police officers complaining about the intimidating behaviour of a senior colleague.

"They're all basket cases," Senior Sergeant Iddles said of the officers affected by bullying.

"We have members who have gone on sick leave, we have members suffering PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and there are indications some members are nearly suicidal," Senior Sergeant Iddles said.

Other problem-plagued stations are believed to include Fawkner, Wangaratta, Gisborne and the mounted branch in South Melbourne.

In August, Mr Lay launched two external inquiries into police suicides and depression after finding some police in crisis were concealing their illnesses because they feared their careers would be damaged if they sought in-house treatment.

A total of 23 operational police and six police public servants have taken their own lives since 1995. Seven police have killed themselves in the past 33 months.

But Senior Sergeant Iddles accused Force Command of failing to respond to a 20 per cent increase in bullying complaints during the past two years.

Fairfax Media understands that just one inspector has been assigned to handle all bullying cases across the state, with most complaints dealt with by email rather than face-to-face interviews.

Several victims of alleged bullying have told the association their complaints had been "white-washed" and "swept under the carpet".

"We know something has to be done about it and the existing policy in Victoria Police doesn't appear to work," Senior Sergeant Iddles said.

"Sexual harassment is only one part of workplace conflict. We support the decision he's made today but it needs to go further because we say bullying in the workplace is far, far more prevalent than sexual harassment."

Deputy Commissioner Tim Cartwright said the claims regarding Altona North station did not "accurately reflect the situation".

"Victoria Police takes bullying extremely seriously – we take any form of inappropriate treatment of our staff seriously, as demonstrated by the chief commissioner's announcement this morning," Mr Cartwright said.

On Thursday, Mr Lay called in the state's human rights commissioner as he launched a statewide taskforce into sexist behaviour among his officers.

He said at least 20 internal sexual harassment investigations during the past three years have revealed "grubby" and "shameless conduct", but the widened taskforce will now handle any and all sexual harassment complaints between officers to ensure the force is a safe place to work.

The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission will also conduct an independent review, which will determine the prevalence of workplace sexual harassment before coming up with a plan to promote equality and publicly reporting on any progress.

"I want to get in front of this. I want to understand the problem. I need help in resolving the problem," Mr Lay said at a press conference with Human Rights Commissioner Kate Jenkins.

There are more than 14,000 sworn Victoria Police members in the state, and more than 75 per cent of them are men, according to the latest annual report.

While stressing that the number of complaints is very small, Mr Lay said existing cases were reprehensible, involving men filming women in change rooms, making suggestive comments, performing simulated sexual acts, and unwanted groping or touching.

In a recent case, Mr Lay said a male supervisor had been ostracising junior female members to pressure them into sexual conduct. The supervisor would spread sexual rumours about the women before threatening their careers and bombarding them with text messages and comments on social media, he said.

"It's men who have this sense of entitlement that, because they're a man, because they're a supervisor, they think they can take advantage of vulnerable people," Mr Lay said.

Original report here

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