It’s the CCTV footage the Victorian Police Association fought to prevent the public from seeing: police officers dousing a woman with pepper spray, forcibly dragging her along the floor of the police station, standing on her legs and kicking her as she lay defenceless, with male officers huddled around watching her underwear being removed, leaving the woman completely naked from the waist down. She had been arrested earlier that night for being intoxicated in public.
And it’s the footage the Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption Commission (IBAC) went to the Supreme Court to make public. IBAC won, and the High Court unanimously refused an appeal by police to keep the hearing private.
Brutal and degrading
The video was used as evidence in one of several cases at the centre of Operation Ross, an investigation by IBAC into complaints of misconduct and excessive force by officers at Ballarat Police Station.
The Station accounted for one in 20 assault complaints in Victoria between 2010 and 2015, three times the state average. Facebook Page Victoria Police Corruption believes the problem is systemic, with Ballarat police having a reputation for being ‘nasty’ since the 1980s.
At the recent IBAC hearings, Leading Senior Constable Nicole Munro – an officer with more than 25 years of service – attempted to play-down her role in the assault by saying she ‘didn’t kick her hard’.
Munro claimed not to recall a male officer stomping on the woman, claiming she has trouble remembering the events of the evening.
On the night in question, in January 2015, police arrested the woman – a fellow member of the force who was on extended sick leave, having made complaints about bullying by her colleagues.
She had been drinking at Ballarat Hotel, before being arrested for “public drunkenness” and taken to Ballarat Police Station where she was held for 16 hours before charges were laid against her. At one point, four officers were in the room as she lay handcuffed on the cement floor, naked from the waist down, with a male officer standing on her spread legs.
It has been reported that officers knew she was a member of the force, and also aware she had been part of the professional standards division – a job which includes investigating corruption within the ranks.
Police have attempted to defend their actions in the face of the shocking footage, saying it was necessary in the circumstances.
Indeed, an internal police investigation – which had access to the footage – cleared the officers of misconduct, with Victoria Police stating:
“The review did find a number of poor decisions were made in the management of a prisoner, and as such the matter has been referred to local management in Ballarat for consideration of discipline and training needs.”
None of the officers were reprimanded or disciplined.
Many believe the recent dramatic increase in police powers and the lack of accountability of police forces across Australia has contributed to a culture where brutality and other forms of misconduct are commonplace, and frequently left unpunished.
Hardly a day goes by without footage emerging on social media of police officers abusing their power by harassing, bullying, assaulting or humiliating members of the public.
The NSW Ombudsman receives upwards of 3,000 complaints against police in our state each year, with insufficient resources to investigate the vast majority of those complaints, and no disciplinary powers. Most complaints fall on deaf ears, and internal police investigations overwhelmingly find in favour of police officers – a situation of ‘police policing themselves’.
And while police officers wear the ‘white ribbon’ and preach ‘stop violence against women’, they are frequently the ones abusing their positions by inflicting cowardly and humiliating assaults against females and other vulnerable members of the public.
Although public hearings for Operation Ross are now closed, the investigation into Ballarat police station remains open and witnesses are encouraged to come forward. Once complete, the IBAC will release a full report and make recommendations.
In the meantime, the officers captured in the disturbing footage continue to serve on the force.