Should Police Be Allowed to Police Themselves? The NT’s Top-Cop Resigns Amidst Allegations of Corruption

Over the years, we’ve published many blogs about corrupt politicians, police, lawyers and even magistrates.

But it seems that even the highest members of the police force are not immune from claims of corruption, with Northern Territory Police Commissioner John McRoberts stepping down this week amidst complaints about his involvement in a criminal investigation.

It is understood that Mr McRoberts’ resignation relates to his involvement in the investigation of Darwin travel agent Xana Kamitis, who is currently facing fraud charges before the courts.

It’s alleged that Ms Kamitis made alterations to travel documents and forged signatures in order to obtain government travel concessions amounting to more than $20,000.

That investigation is still ongoing.Ironically, Ms Kamitis also headed Crime Stoppers NT and was responsible for organising the national Crime Stoppers conference last year.

She has since stood down from that position.

However, little is known about what exactly provoked Mr McRoberts’ decision to resign.

The investigation remains shrouded in secrecy, however it reportedly relates to a conflict of interest resulting from his relationship with Ms Kamitis and an abuse of power in her case.

The events have sent shockwaves through the police force, and have the potential to diminish public confidence in the integrity of the role of Police Commissioner.

Traditionally, the role of Police Commissioner is held by a senior member of the police force, who has the responsibility of overseeing the operations of the force itself.

Prior to his resignation, Mr McRoberts had accumulated over 30 years of service as a police officer in the Northern Territory and Western Australia.

But his career was not entirely unblemished – in 2009, he became involved in a phone tapping scandal, in which it was alleged that he defended the unlawful search of a journalist’s phone records.

McRoberts dismissed the allegations, saying that the action was within police powers.

He came under fire again in the same year after a former colleague alleged that he had been unfairly dismissed after he raised concerns about the treatment of his father whilst serving in the same force.

Policing the Police – Should Police Be Able to Investigate Their Peers?

Since Mr McRoberts’ resignation, there have been concerns raised about whether the Northern Territory police should be able to investigate the actions of their present or former colleagues.

Whilst Mr McRoberts is not being investigated by the territory’s police force, a second senior member of the force, Commander Richard Bryson, was also suspended due to his actions in the same scandal.

Mr Bryson’s actions will reportedly be investigated by the Northern Territory Police.

However, the decision to investigate Mr Bryson has been the source of disquiet, with former Northern Territory Ombudsman Caroline Richards stating that the police force is not the appropriate body to be investigating the actions of its own former colleagues.

Ms Richards suggests that to allow such an investigation to take place would create a conflict of interest and scope for further corruption.

In making these statements, she drew on her own experience as Ombudsman, saying, ‘When police have discretion to determine themselves how far they go with an investigation, who they interview, what documents they look at, then there will always be a tendency for police to protect their own. That’s part of the police culture.’

Her comments raise questions about the ways in which investigations of members of the police force are handled internally, and the extent to which the integrity of such investigations may be compromised.

But while she has suggested that the Ombudsman’s office should be responsible for carrying out the investigation due to its independence, it could only do so if it received a complaint from the public or made a decision to become involved.

The NT Police have, however, reportedly stated that the Ombudsman is likely to become involved later in the investigation to ensure that it is ‘conducted appropriately.’

Although it is important to bear in mind that neither Mr McRoberts nor Mr Bryson have been found guilty of any wrongdoing, the case illustrates the potential for misconduct to occur even within the ranks of bodies that are expected to exercise integrity, such as high-ranking members of the police force.

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About Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim is an Accredited Specialist Criminal Lawyer and Principal at Sydney Criminal Lawyers, Sydney's leading firm of criminal and traffic defence lawyers.
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