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."


1 comment:

Mrs Accountable said...

I wouldn't believe a thing Bob Atkinson said. He knows what to say when, and who to ignore when there is nothing in it for him. I have experienced an internal investigation, that they dragged on for nearly 3 years solely to wear the officer down. Senior officers are very experienced at saying something that excuses them. Likewise when they want to brick an officer there is no "communication" as reported to be and supposed to be re policy, they then have a God given talent and know the officer is guilty of serious misconduct, and line the 'real liars up' to do the job. Bullies!