The police force is in place to deal with members of the community who break the law, but what happens when a police officer is suspected of a crime?
The Police Integrity Commission (PIC) was set up in 1996 by the NSW Government to oversee allegations of police misconduct and investigate when required.
As well as looking at police officers, the Police Integrity Commission also investigates suspected misconduct by administrative officers of the NSW Police Force and officers of the NSW Crime Commission.
The PIC is set up to focus on serious allegations rather than minor matters, and as a result it investigates a wide range of types of misconduct, including:
- Improper relationships with criminals.
- Accepting or soliciting bribes.
- The release of confidential police information to criminals.
- Improper interference in police investigations.
- Serious assaults.
- Perverting the course of justice.
- Drug offences committed by police officers.
- Crimes which attract a minimum of a five-year prison sentence.
The Police Integrity Commission plays a vital role in maintaining the integrity of the police force and increasing public confidence in police officers and the system as a whole.
Over the years, the commission has investigated a number of serious allegations of misconduct, including the Taser death of Brazilian student Roberto Curti in 2012, and the death of mental illness sufferer Adam Salter at the hands of police in 2009.
PIC probes links between police and the Catholic Church
A PIC investigation is currently being held into allegations that NSW police and the Catholic Church had an unsigned memorandum of understanding regarding the way that child sexual abuse allegations are dealt with.
This case has gained a lot of public attention, with hearings being held this week.
The current investigation looks at the time period between 1998 and 2005 after allegations surfaced last year of a memorandum of understanding between the Catholic Church and the police force which allegedly limited the amount of information the church was required to give to police in the event of a child sex abuse allegation against a catholic priest.
Documentation made public under the Freedom of Information Act detailed an unsigned memorandum of understanding which allegedly stated that the Church was only required to hand over evidence or statements from priests accused of child sexual abuse when a court order was in place.
This understanding, if it were in effect, would be a direct contravention of Section 316 of the Crimes Act.
Section 316 is the act of concealing a serious criminal offence and it comes with a two-year prison sentence.
It also goes against mandatory reporting requirements that the Church is legally required to abide by.
Although police didn’t sign the MOU in question, church representatives confirmed that the church believed the memorandum of understanding was in place and agreed on by both parties.
The church also confirmed that it has been acting under the guidelines set out in the document, which could affect potentially hundreds of child sex abuse cases.
Another issue raised by the released information surrounds a police officer’s secondment to a church committee during the time period in question.
The police force was unable to produce any evidence obtained from the clergy during that time as there was allegedly an existing protocol which meant that all evidence submitted needed to either be returned to the church or shredded.
It has been speculated that this was a way for the church to fulfil its legal reporting obligations, while still protecting members of the clergy.
Once the investigation is complete, the PIC will make a number of recommendations based on the evidence that is uncovered.
Another recent case
The investigation into the alleged memorandum of understanding is the latest in a number of high profile cases of alleged corruption that the PIC has recently investigated.
In a case at the end of last year, the PIC investigated the alleged illegal betting activities of two NSW police officers.
The police officers had been banned from using a number of popular betting websites after it was found they were using inside information to place bets.
They set up false accounts at a number of gambling sites by convincing fellow police officers to provide them with their identification so they could set up the accounts in their names.
PIC essential to public faith in the system
It’s important that an external body exists to investigate and intervene in cases where police are accused of corruption, unethical conduct or breaking the law.
The stated mission of the PIC is for the public to have confidence in the integrity of the police force and for that to happen, the community has to see that police officers face the same consequences as everyone else if they break the law.
Members of the public can report serious misconduct by police officers via the PIC website or through calling 1800 657079.