New South Wales police officers have once again been chastised by a magistrate after unlawfully arresting a man in the ACT, a jurisdiction where their powers are not recognised.
The court has thrown out all charges against the man, calling the conduct of the officers ‘unlawful’, ‘unprofessional’ and ‘outrageous’.
The court heard that Allan Eric Watts was driving whilst disqualified after being convicted for drug driving in May 2019.
Police alleged that in the early hours of an April morning this year, Mr Watts rode a motorcycle into a service station in Hume, an ACT suburb near the border with New South Wales.
The officers pulled him over, and arrested him after claiming to have formed a belief he was affected by drugs.
The man was detained until the Australian Federal Police arrived an hour or so later.
The man was then charged with driving while disqualified, possessing a knife and breaching a good behaviour bond.
He then spent two weeks behind bars before being granted bail.
The ACT magistrate found the officers had “no power to arrest” the man in the capital territory, and therefore acted unlawfully.
The magistrate rejected an argument by the prosecution that the officers had been acting in good faith and could not in good conscience have let Mr Watts leave while they suspected he was under the influence of drugs.
The magistrate pointed out that the only avenue that could potentially have been available to the officers was a common law citizens arrest; which was not available in the present situation because the actions of the officers was based on a mere suspicion.
The actions of the officers were “a terrible imposition on his liberties,” the magistrate remarked.
Officer threatens to break the man’s legs
The court viewed body cam footage from the incident, in which police tell Mr Watts to stay where he is. The arrested man replies, “I’m not going to run”, to which one of the officers responds: “You’re not going to run, because if I catch you, I’m going to break your legs.”
Any resulting damages will, of course, be paid by New South Wales taxpayers; not by the offending police officers.
Taxpayers foot the bill for police misconduct
Figures obtained by Greens MP David Shoebridge show that the New South Wales Police Force – or, rather, the state’s taxpayers – spent more than $24 million on 300 civil claims brought against officers during the last financial year alone.
The figures includes settlements for serious misconduct claims including battery, false imprisonment and malicious prosecution, and is a damning insight into the cost of police misconduct across the state.
Data on the cost of civil claims against police have been notoriously hard to access, until now, mostly due to the fact that any out of court settlements usually include confidentiality clauses so that all details remain out of the public domain.
Police have continually resisted attempts by justice advocacy groups and politicians to access the figures, but over the past few years there is increasing pressure on the New South Wales Police to be more transparent, because what is also unclear is how the officers involved in these incidents are managed in the wake of misconduct. It is impossible in most instances to determine whether they have been disciplined, demoted, suspended, or removed from the force altogether, or indeed, any of these.
Not only does this lack of transparency perpetuate a culture of secrecy and cover-ups but it further undermines public confidence and trust in the police force.