It has been reported that over 50 NSW police officers are facing a range of serious criminal charges, including sexual assault, child rape, domestic assault and perjury.
The details, obtained under freedom of information laws, suggest that 32 of NSW police officers facing charges have been suspended, while 21 remain on active duty. Retired Assistant Police Commissioner Clive Small was surprised by the number and seriousness of the charges, saying the revelations affect public confidence in the police force.
Lack of Disciplinary Action
Of particular concern is the fact that many police officers continue to serve on the force despite being convicted of criminal offences.
For example, Highway Patrol Officer Stephen Alan Saltmarsh remains on the force despite pleading guilty in Wagga Wagga Local Court to issuing bogus speeding tickets to non-existent overseas drivers in May and June last year.
And Inspector Damian Goodfellow was convicted in 1999 of assaulting an off-duty colleague. In 2002, he was arrested on suspicion of stealing and crashing an unmarked police car while intoxicated. Despite these findings, he was promoted to Acting Kings Cross Crime Manager.
Criminality in the Police Force
The revelations come shortly after a South Australian MP expressed concerns that officers in that state were not being disciplined for breaking the law. A dozen SA police have been caught drink or drug driving in recent years, but none disciplined.
Just two years, another expose found that 1 in 40 serving police officers in NSW have criminal convictions. This amounts to 437 serving police officers, with 591 convictions amongst them. The figure represents a 256% increase upon 2008, when there were 166 offences amongst 133 serving officers.
The problem of crime and corruption in police forces across Australia continues despite the 1995 Wood Royal Commission, which found systemic corruption throughout the force and made a range of recommendations for reform.
NSW Deputy Premier Troy Grant denies that the NSW Police Force has a culture of misconduct. “The cultural issues of the force are quite simple, that we insist on integrity and very high levels of standards,” he said.
Similarly, Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione says that although there are a “few bad apples”, there is no general misconduct problem in the NSW force. “No-one should be mistaken about my tolerance for actions that tarnish the good name of the 16,000-plus officers who risk their lives and dedicate themselves to serve the community,” he said.
Dismissing Police Officers
Section 181D of the Police Act 1990 (NSW) gives the Police Commissioner power to dismiss an officer he “does not have confidence” in, after “having regard to the police officer’s competence, integrity, performance or conduct.”
Since 2007, Scipione has dismissed 216 officers under the section. The Commissioner previously expressed the view that most convictions are for minor offences: “In the majority of cases, officers will have been convicted of a low range PCA or similar offence. While I am not happy about that, I don’t believe that warrants the end of a … career,” he said.
However, Scipione was forced to modify that statement after freedom of information documents revealed that officers had indeed remained on the force despite having convictions for serious assaults, domestic violence offences and other serious charges.
While those who are charged with criminal offences should be considered innocent until proven guilty, many are concerned about the impact of such serious allegations on the public’s confidence in a force that is already tarnished by misconduct issues.
The fact that many officers remain in active service despite having criminal convictions is also cause for concern in the eyes of many.