Can police be trusted to investigate their own?

May 23, 2016 – 6:49PM

Cameron Houston

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The video evidence is graphic and harrowing.

A distressed woman is swarmed by police officers, doused with pepper spray and kicked as she crouches on the floor of a police cell. She is handcuffed and defenceless.

The community expects all police to be held to the highest standards.

The community expects all police to be held to the highest standards. Photo: Marina Neil

The drunk woman is partially naked after being forcibly strip searched as a male officer watches on. Other footage shows the 51-year-old drinking water from a toilet after complaining a tap was broken.

It could be a grim scene from a US detention camp in Guantanamo Bay or Iraq’s notorious Abu Ghraib prison, but the footage was aired at a public examination on Monday into serious claims of police brutality at Ballarat Police Station.

The five-day hearing by Victoria’s Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption Commission will test explosive allegations against several senior police officers in Ballarat, but the tremors will be felt by Force Command back in Melbourne.

The examination, including the confronting CCTV footage, will raise uncomfortable questions for Professional Standards Command, which is tasked with investigating misconduct within the force.

An internal probe by Professional Standards Command in December last year cleared the two officers involved in the alleged assault at Ballarat station of any criminal offences. Despite being the subject of an ongoing IBAC investigation their suspensions were overturned and they were allowed back to work.

But in a stunning example of understatement, Victoria Police conceded “that a number of poor decisions were made in the management of a prisoner.”

In his opening address to the hearing in Ballarat on Monday, Counsel Assisting Jack Rush QC said the woman had been “kicked, stomped on and stood upon”.

The chasm between Mr Rush’s observations and the findings by Professional Standards Command cannot be reconciled and should be of deep concern to Assistant Commissioner Brett Guerin, who oversees the force’s internal watchdog.

Police investigating their own has always been problematic. Professional Standards Command often appears to turn a blind eye to the indiscretions of colleagues, or refer complaints back to the stations where they were first made.

Mr Guerin recently decided to ignore the recommendations of an internal police investigation, when he opted not to lay perjury charges against two officers, who allegedly assaulted two teenagers in 2014. The matter is now the subject of a review by the Office of Public Prosecutions.

IBAC recently expressed “significant concerns” about Victoria Police’s handling of misconduct complaints, which range from illicit drug use to excessive force and predatory behaviour.

Based on an assessment of almost 3000 allegations over the past year – as well a review of 114 complaints, the IBAC report found predatory behaviour towards vulnerable people continued to be a problem. It also revealed a number of repeat offenders may still be working in the force.

“Victoria Police has indicated it is monitoring and investigating these officers and developing detailed risk-mitigation strategies where appropriate,” the report said.

The Ballarat region has the worst record in the state for complaints, with 52 police officers receiving four or more complaints – almost twice the state average. It would appear that several officers based in Ballarat warrant closer scrutiny from their supervisors and Police Standards Command.

The community expects all police to be held to the highest standards, not cut slack to avoid damage to the reputation of the police force.

Source : The Age

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