By Sonia Hickey and Ugur Nedim
Many believe the culture of misconduct in the Queensland Police Force (QPS) is worse than ever before, even poorer than prior to the state’s 1987 Fitzgerald Inquiry into police corruption.
Despite recommendations for better accountability mechanisms, police in Queensland – and indeed across Australia – have largely been left to police themselves, as oversight bodies lack the funding and human resources to investigate complaints properly and do not have the power to discipline or bring criminal charges against officers who are found to have engaged in crime and corruption.
It is in this context that social justice advocate Renee Eaves is preparing to launch an independent group to fight corruption and other forms of misconduct in the QPS.
Victim of misconduct takes action
Ms Eaves is one of many Queenslanders to have their personal details accessed on the police database without sufficient reason. Information The social justice advocate obtained information through right to information legislation that revealed her personal information had been accessed 1,400 times by around 400 officers.
Ms Eaves now supports victims of police misconduct, and is spearheading a new independent group to address problems with the existing process of complaints handling against QPS officers.
Database hacking scandal
While the QPS claims to have taken steps to reform its internal investigation process, a recent investigation revealed that officers who illegally accessed and/or misused private information contained on the police database went undisciplined in 90% of cases.
Allegations have also recently emerged that Queensland officers shredded the sexual assault complaint of a woman known as ‘Lyla’ without investigation, and later told her they couldn’t “wave a magic wand and fix all of your problems”.
Another recent case is that of ‘Julia’, whose violent ex-partner was given her address by his friend, a QPS officer, who was never prosecuted despite putting the woman in danger.
Misconduct, corruption, nepotism and maladministration
Renee Eaves has long held concerns that the QPS and state’s legal system are failing to protect vulnerable women.
She says the new committee aims to “highlight the inadequate oversight of police misconduct and police corruption as well as nepotism and maladministration.”
Ms Eaves is starting the group with other leading advocates, including Narelle Dawson-Wells, a clinical psychologist and the wife of former Queensland attorney general Dean Wells. Four years ago, Mrs Dawson-Wells was charged with perjury, after testifying at the trial of a man she claimed sexually assaulted her. The DPP eventually dismissed the case.
Reports of harassment, misconduct, bullying and brutality by police officers are certainly not new, nor are they confined to Queensland. Indeed, there is community concern Australia-wide that the actions of police are too often inappropriate, that brutality is on the rise, and that complaints against officers are largely ignored.
Earlier this year the In Victoria, the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC) slammed the state’s police force for upholding less than 4 percent of allegations of police brutality.
In that state, legal aid lawyers have suggested victims take matters into their own hands and upload footage of police misconduct to social media, in the hope of highlighting the fact that this has become a serious problem.
In New South Wales, taxpayers recently footed the bill for $124,000 awarded to a teen who was illegally arrested, falsely imprisoned, assaulted and maliciously prosecuted by police.
And police officers in Byron Bay are yet to learn their fate after striking a naked, 16-year old teenager 18 times with a baton as he lay on the ground yelling for help.
In Queensland, the state’s Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) is fed-up with police officers behaving as a ‘law unto themselves’. While the CCC has an oversight responsibility for police misconduct, the new body is frustrated that, like other oversight bodies, it has no power to discipline or press charges against offending officers.
In Western Australia too, police officer have been found guilty of battery, wrongful arrest, and false imprisonment – yet been allowed to remain on the force.
The CCC is hoping to work with senior police and state government officials to make officers act more in line with community expectations, and reduce crime and corruption amongst officers.