Police are supposed to keep our streets safe and protect us from harm – but unfortunately, some officers continue to act outside the law.
News emerged recently that a Victorian police officer who was found guilty of stalking a woman has been allowed to keep his job and to continue living within 100 metres of his victim, in a decision that has been widely criticised for ‘enabling’ his behaviour.
Officer ‘Made Victim’s Skin Crawl’
32-year-old Daniel Luke Smith was found guilty of stalking a young woman for over a year between January 2013 and May 2014.
A Melbourne Court heard that his conduct ranged from sending her numerous text messages, to following her home and to her workplace and ‘keeping the woman under surveillance to the point where she would fear for her safety.’
The Court also heard that the officer leased an apartment in close proximity to the woman’s house and would frequently drive past her home, often parking outside her lounge room.
The woman has suffered anxiety as a result of Smith’s behaviour, telling the Court that he made her ‘skin crawl.’
Smith was handed an 18-month Community Corrections Order requiring him to do 120 hours of unpaid community work, as well as undergoing a mental health assessment and treatment for his conduct.
As a result of the conviction, Victoria Police have reportedly suspended him with pay, with a police spokesperson refusing to comment on the decision.
Many have expressed outrage over the decision not to dismiss Smith; particularly as the officer has been allowed to remain living on the same street as his victim.
Treatment of Women by Police Criticised
The decision comes just weeks before the release of a report into sex discrimination, sexual harassment and predatory conduct by Victorian Police, which is being prepared by the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission.
The report was commissioned after widespread allegations of sexual abuse and discrimination within the Force. It seeks to review, report and make recommendations on ‘the nature and prevalence of sex discrimination and sexual harassment amongst Victorian Police personnel,’ as well as the reasons behind and impact of the behaviour.
According to Police Commissioner Ken Lay, Victorian Police have received 20 allegations of sexual harassment since 2011 – and the review was necessary to investigate the ‘shameless conduct by some of our people.’
It also seeks to develop initiatives which could bring about cultural change within the Force, including any training and educational initiatives.
According to Victoria’s Human Rights Commissioner:
‘the information gathered by the Independent Review will then be used to develop an action plan for Victoria Police, which we will then independently monitor and report on publicly over three years.’
A ‘Toxic’ Police Culture
Sadly, sexual harassment and discrimination is not an issue confined to the Victorian Police Force – but one which appears endemic to all police jurisdictions.
We published a blog earlier this year about instances of sexual harassment within the Gold Coast Police Force – including reports that female police officers were constantly subjected to inappropriate touching, and offered promotions in exchange for sexual favours.
In another incident, officers attached to a Perth police station found themselves in hot water after they humiliated, stripped and bashed a 33-year-old woman who had been arrested for the minor offence of disorderly behaviour.
CCTV footage from the police station showed the woman being led naked into a room, where she was forced to the floor face down and ‘searched’ by male and female officers. The highly distressed woman is heard screaming out for help.
Members of the NSW Police Force have also been accused of sexual harassment – in one case, a young police woman was humiliated by her colleagues, who reportedly patronised her ‘not only in front of colleagues, but in front of known offenders.’
The young woman, named Kirsty, told the media that her toilet breaks were monitored and broadcast on the PA system, and that she was subjected to groping, catcalls, and taunts.
Instead of being investigated and the officers disciplined, her complaints were simply dismissed – and Kirsty was transferred to another command.
Her experience led her to conclude that the Force was plagued by a ‘toxic police culture.’
2015 marks the 100th anniversary of women joining the NSW Police Force.
It is hoped that after a century, the impending report will shine the spotlight on instances of sexual harassment and abuse of women by Australian police officers, and lead to the development of stricter protocols and disciplinary guidelines to prevent future incidents of abuse and discrimination.