Police forces hold a position of responsibility in Australia.
As they are responsible for ensuring that those in the general community live up to certain standards of behaviour and follow the law, it stands to reason that individual members of the police force should uphold these standards themselves, and set a good example.
Unfortunately, there have been a number of recent incidents where police officers have not only failed to set an example, they have been guilty of committing criminal offences, and being allowed to remain on full pay while the matters are being investigated.
If police officers are allowed to behave in a manner that is against the public interest, without facing consequences, what message does that give to other officers and the rest of the community?
Are police officers being held accountable enough for their actions, or should they be held more accountable?
Why should police set a high standard of behaviour?
Police officers have a position of authority in our society. The members of the police force are the ones who are responsible for ensuring that individuals in the community follow the law and act in a responsible manner towards others.
For police officers to ignore the standards that they expect the rest of the community to abide by can lead to a number of unfortunate consequences.
Lack of Trust
When individual members of the police force are found to be breaking the law, it can affect the way they are perceived by the general public and this can lead to distrust of the police and the criminal justice system.
If the public has no faith in the system it can undermine the effectiveness of the police force, and the ability of officers to carry out their role in society.
Along with lack of public trust in the police force, the continued number of incidents of police officers committing criminal offences can give the appearance of hypocrisy.
If police officers aren’t seen to be being held accountable for their actions, it raises questions as to why they should expect the general population to be held accountable for theirs.
There have been a number of recent incidents reported in the media where police officers have treated members of the public in a way that would be considered unlawful under any other circumstances.
Assaulting people during arrest or investigation, or using unnecessary force, is one common situation that is reported in the media frequently.
Allowing police officers to use an excessive level of force which would be considered assault under any other circumstances sets up an unfair situation where police have the power to intimidate and bully members of the public.
As well as creating unnecessary tension between police officers and the public, this can undermine the effectiveness of the criminal justice system.
Recent examples of criminal offences committed by police officers
There have been a number of examples of police officers committing criminal offences in the media recently.
According to a very recent media report, an estimated one in 40 police officers in NSW has committed a criminal offence and many of these have escaped conviction. In one example, a police officer was filmed allegedly performing an illegal U-turn on a dual carriageway and almost causing an accident.
According to the report, the officer involved hasn’t faced any disciplinary procedures and the matter is under investigation.
Last week, two Queensland police officers were charged with raping a woman in a squad car while on duty.
The officers have been suspended on full pay while they await their court date and have been prohibited from contacting or interfering with any of the 38 witnesses.
Continued incidents like these are likely to further erode community trust and respect for police officers.
As they hold positions of authority in the community, is it reasonable to expect police officers to uphold a higher standard of behaviour than everyone else?
It would appear that there needs to be further accountability and education for police officers, and the consequences for law breaking and inappropriate behaviour should be clear and consistent.