Earlier this week, we published a blog about a police officer who was suspended on full pay but kept his job after being found guilty of stalking and harassing a woman.
Sadly, it appears that some police officers feel that they can get away with harassing and abusing people.
In the latest case of police misconduct, a South Australian officer has received a ‘slap on the wrist’ after racially abusing and threatening an Aboriginal man.
The South Australian Police Ombudsman received reports from the senior constable’s colleagues to the effect he swore at the man, racially abused him including calling him a ‘black cunt’, and threatened to tie him to a police car and drag him around the streets with the siren and lights turned on.
Instead of losing his job for such appalling conduct, the officer was asked to undergo a 6 week ‘cultural awareness program’ – with no other disciplinary action being taken.
The report comes less than a week after NSW Attorney-General Gabrielle Upton announced a strengthening of racial discrimination laws; including a revamping of the offence of ‘serious racial discrimination.’
Officer’s Deplorable Actions
A closer examination of the report reveals the full extent of the officer’s disgusting treatment of the Indigenous man, who was reportedly intoxicated and had been detained in accordance with provisions under the Mental Health Act.
According to the report, the full interaction was as follows:
Aboriginal man: You think I’m a dog, don’t you?
Police Officer: I actually think you’re a black cunt.
Aboriginal man: You’re going to kill me aren’t you?
Police Officer: If I was going to kill you I would have done that by now.
Aboriginal man: You want to kill me don’t you? Why don’t you just kill me already. Just take that hose and hand me on the tree.
Police Officer: I’d like to tie the hose around your neck, set you on fire, and drag you around the streets attached to our car with lights and sirens on.
Aboriginal man: (Screaming out towards his neighbours) the police are trying to murder me, the police are going to kill me.
The report points out that former Police Commissioner Gary Burns merely ordered that the officer undertake a cultural awareness program at the Police Academy – despite the Ombudsman noting that the Commissioner had a number of options available to him, including terminating his job, suspending his appointment, reducing his salary for a specified period, transferring the officer, or fining him.
It appears that none of these options were even considered by the Commissioner – despite a previous Police Ombudsman stating that the officer was ‘entirely unsuitable to continue as a member of the police force,’ and several of his colleagues reporting his deplorable behaviour.
The current Police Ombudsman states, ‘it does not appear to me that the behaviour of the senior constable in this matter had anything to do with cultural awareness,’ adding that he was ‘currently dealing with another complaint from Aboriginal people about the conduct of the same officer, which occurred only a few weeks after the abuse of the Aboriginal man in this case.’
More Needs to be Done
A culture of police misconduct, coupled with a systemic failure to discipline officers, has led many to conclude that our essentially self-regulating police forces operate ‘above the law’ when dealing with members of the public.
Indigenous Advisory Council Chairman Warren Mundine has spoken out about the above incident, saying that ‘if that happened in any other job, they would be dismissed,’ and asserting that racism is not only rife but accepted in police forces. He has asked State and Commonwealth law enforcement agencies to make cultural training a mandatory and ongoing requirement of working in these fields.
Racial Discrimination Commissioner, Tim Soutphommasane, has also condemned the decision not to reprimand the officer, saying that”
‘conduct of this kind warrants serious disciplinary action. This goes beyond mere cultural awareness. No member of any police force should be talking to a member of the public in this way.’
Despite Australia being regarded as one of the most culturally diverse nations in the world, police have developed a reputation for racially profiling and targeting persons from certain ethnic backgrounds.
This is reflected in statistics which show that Indigenous Australians are 17.3 times more likely to be arrested than non-Indigenous people – and much more likely to be charged for minor offences. Indeed, there are several studies about police officers aggressively confronting Indigenous people for using offensive language, which causes the situation to escalate into an altercation, as a result of which police end up charging them with the so-called ‘trio of offences’ – offensive language, resisting arrest and assaulting police.
And who could forget the plight of the Sudanese community in Victoria, who triggered an inquiry in 2011 after reporting that local police constantly approached and harassed them while they were simply trying to go about their daily lives.
Their experience sparked a Federal Court lawsuit – but the matter was eventually settled for an undisclosed sum out of court.
The most recent incident is a disappointing example of how more needs to be stamp out racism in Australian police forces.