Sunday, October 18, 2009

Thuggish attitudes and behaviour among the Queensland police start at the top

If there's one thing police officers are good at, aside from crime fighting, it's putting on a tough exterior. With a job description that includes dealing with hardened criminals, drunks and nuisances, there's an understandable emphasis on remaining authoritative, tough and unbreakable. It's one of the reasons that many cops don't associate much with people who don't wear the uniform. "No one else can really understand what it's like, what you go through," one experienced officer, who asked not to be named, said.

This collective mentality and feeling of camaraderie is generally a good thing - most officers will tell you the best therapy they get comes from chatting to their workmates. So when you find yourself on the outer, in conflict with the upper echelons of the police service, it can be hard to cope. "When the police department turns on you like that it's sort of like being rejected by a parent," one officer said. "You get institutionalised to that extent and when the institution turns against you it really is like your mother or father has abandoned you."

Which may help explain what was going through Senior Sergeant Mick Isles' head when he disappeared on September 23. The highly respected officer in charge of Ayr police station, in north Queensland, had been off work for 13 months on stress leave as first the Crime and Misconduct Commission (CMC) and then police ethical standards command investigated allegations of wrongdoing. He returned to work on September 21, fully exonerated but still feeling humiliated by the lengthy investigation that was well known around town and the police service.

"We were all stressed, but then we were never the ones who were publicly humiliated, so we cannot understand what was going through his mind," his son Steven said. "This destroyed him."

Exactly what happened to Sen Sgt Isles is unknown. An extensive search south of Ayr located his vehicle but no sign of the 58-year-old. Theories about his fate are plentiful. Many believe he committed suicide, while some have raised the prospect of foul play. Most who knew him, however, believe he is still alive and in hiding somewhere.

In his father's absence Steven Isles has begun a crusade of sorts against what he calls a culture of victimisation within the Queensland Police Service (QPS) and the CMC. Steven Isles has been inundated with support from dozens of serving and former officers from Cairns to South-East Queensland. Many agreed to be interviewed for the purposes of this article, though declined to be named for fear of recrimination. All were scathing in their criticisms of the treatment of Sen Sgt Isles, beginning with his very public arrest at a charity event last August.

"If it was me running (the investigation) I would have phoned him and said: `Mick, we've got a problem, meet us at the station'," one senior officer said. "It's not like he's not going to turn up, they know where to find him, it's just not reasonable."

Others spoke out against the delay in finalising the investigation, but say the case is not uncommon. "They are notoriously slow, they have no consideration for what it puts the copper and their family through," one officer said. "The CMC can drag it on for as long as they like, it's absurd."

However, the CMC and Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson have claimed the investigation would have been completed much earlier had Sen Sgt Isles agreed to speak to investigators. Queensland Police Union president Ian Leavers said lawyers had advised Sen Sgt Isles to speak to the CMC. "When our members are under investigation we get the best lawyers in Queensland and members need to follow their advice," he said. "I believe if that advice was followed, the conclusion would have been a lot quicker."

Steven Isles says his father was willing to speak with the CMC but wanted correspondence with the anti-corruption watchdog in writing first.

Other officers raised concerns of bullying within the police service. One station boss, who says he fell out of favour with upper management over disputes about funding and officer safety, says he was repeatedly subject to intimidation tactics. He said one inspector would make unannounced visits to his station, some two hours away from the regional headquarters, simply to inspect his haircut. "It was so blatantly obvious that they didn't like you and they came after you," he said. "If they get in their mind that you are questioning them they will chip away at you until it drives you over the edge and that's obviously what's happened to Mick."

For his part, Steven Isles said his father had been warned six weeks before the investigation was launched that a commissioned officer was "gunning for his head". However, those who worked with him say they can't imagine how Sen Sgt Isles would have got himself on the wrong side of upper management. "He wasn't one to ruffle feathers, I can't see him annoying anybody," Steven Isles said.

Mr Atkinson this week denied there was a culture of intimidation within the QPS. "I reject that, I really do," he said. "We're not perfect as an organisation ... but I think the last two decades have seen an incredible change in the department, and I would hope the next 10 years sees further change."

Whatever the case, the many questions surrounding Sen Sgt Isles' disappearance will now be investigated by the state coroner. In the meantime, Steven Isles is going to make sure his father's case won't be forgotten. "We are here to fight this culture, we want to make sure that no employee is treated like this again."


Monday, October 12, 2009

The force of corruption again

Police whistleblower sent home, told to see psychiatrist. No time for integrity among the Queensland police hierarchy. Is Terry Lewis back?

A VETERAN officer who has exposed cronyism and corruption in the police force has been ordered off work even though his doctor says he is fit for duty. Sergeant Robbie Munn – who wants to resume his decorated 30-year career – says the service has a culture that deters whistleblowers from reporting "dirty little secrets".

The police force claims Sgt Munn, who has fully recovered from heart surgery, requires psychiatric help and has ordered him off the job for 18 months. Sgt Munn's treatment has prompted serving officers to speak out, claiming he is being shunned because he is seen as "dangerous because he stands up for the truth". Sgt Munn, who was in charge of 70 police officers at Maroochydore, has revealed:

• Police cheated on promotion exams by plagiarising and paying others to complete their work.

• He unsuccessfully tried to reform rosters at the Maroochydore watchhouse after becoming concerned at some work practices. A year later, two officers were charged and eventually jailed for taking advantage of female prisoners.

• The anti-corruption watchdog made a rare decision to overturn a police appointment and install Sgt Munn after he was overlooked for promotion.

"There's a culture within the service to avoid accountability for management practices. There are a lot of dirty little secrets," Sgt Munn said. "A lot of your rank and file would come forward but they have seen what has happened to previous whistleblowers."

The Police Service has been accused of "doctor shopping" psychiatrists to block his return and refusing to provide a rehab program for the officer. Sgt Munn is on paid leave and says he has received more than $100,000 in the past 18 months from a police sick leave fund. Sgt Munn says the fund is meant for other officers "with genuine medical problems". "The harassment is continuing even though I'm not at work. I'm not ready to retire. I've spent 30 years of my life helping the community and there is value in me being able to do that," Sgt Munn said.

The QPS refuses to answer questions about Sgt Munn, former officer-in-charge of the Dayboro and Maroochydore police stations. Commissioner Bob Atkinson has been on leave this week. "The QPS is currently seeking medical information to determine (Sgt Munn's) fitness and ability to undertake the role of a police officer," a police spokeswoman said.

Evie, his wife, said her husband had been "honest to his own detriment" for speaking out years ago against fraudulent promotion practices, drawing the ire of supervisors and those involved in the rort.

Sgt Munn has arrested hundreds of criminals, had his jaw broken and a knife held to his chest. But he said criminals would be "envious" of shady activities within the force.

Queensland Police Union general secretary Mick Barnes said Sgt Munn was a victim of "bastardisation" in the force. "It highlights the mindset within many senior QPS officers who are unable to agree to disagree," he said.

Maroochydore's Sgt John Saez, a 37-year veteran, said he knows of no reason why Sgt Munn shouldn't be working. He said Sgt Munn was an intelligent supervisor "always looking out for the welfare of his troops" and was quick to suggest reforms to the force. "I honestly think they think Robbie is a dangerous fellow. Because he stands up for the truth, they want him out," Sgt Saez said. "If you buck the system, they put your name up on the wall with a black mark on it."

Sgt Munn's problems began in 1996 when he was wrongly denied a promotion at Dayboro. He took the matter to the then Criminal Justice Commission, which found in his favour.

In 2002, Sgt Munn blew the whistle on corruption within the promotion system of QPS. He found evidence of officers paying for answers to promotion tests, prompting an ethics investigation that led to the police service installing plagiarism software.

In 2005, when he was in charge of Maroochydore watchhouse, he suggested reforms to the roster system after becoming suspicious of shift requests from some officers. His suggestion of a larger rotation was vetoed. The following year, it was revealed officers had been sexually assaulting female inmates. Two officers were jailed over more than 20 charges and several others resigned.

"One of my motivations is to improve the lot of other officers. They might think if I can stand up against a corrupt system, they can too and it will make it better for them," Sgt Munn said. "I've got the runs on the board for doing that. If I can bring it out, maybe it won't happen to others. "Regardless of what they say, I can still hold my head up high."

Sgt Munn believes he was victimised after his whistleblowing by officers who made unsubstantiated complaints against him. He took stress leave and later had heart surgery and now the QPS refuses to take him back. The QPS made Sgt Munn visit one of its consulting psychiatrists, Petros Markou, who has suggested he return to work with a rehab plan that the QPS has yet to develop. Dr Markou said Sgt Munn's challenging of the police selection panel for the Dayboro position sparked retaliation.