Monday, February 15, 2010

Police watchdog (CMC) getting sleepy

SEX, drugs, nightclubs and allegations of misbehaving police - The Courier Mail's recent revelations conjure a sense of deja vu for anyone who recalls Queensland in the pre-Fitzgerald 1980s.

Then the focus was on Fortitude Valley. Now "sin city" has shifted to the Gold Coast. When combined with revelations from the Crime and Misconduct Commission's Dangerous Liaisons report from last year, Queenslanders could be forgiven for thinking that the state has indeed gone back to the bad old days, as some commentators suggest.

But while any police misconduct is a worry, there are some major differences between the earlier corruption and the current problems. These differences result from reforms following the 1989 Fitzgerald report. Some of these reforms have been diluted or wound back, but enough remain to make Queensland policing in 2010 fundamentally different from what came before the inquiry.

But, as anti-corruption commissioner Tony Fitzgerald noted last year, vigilance is needed to maintain the reform agenda in the face of complacency and self-interest....

But the area of misconduct remains a problem. On the positive side, the once non-existent accountability has been replaced by a plethora of government agencies overseeing what police do, including the QPS Ethical Standards Command, the CMC, the Ombudsman, Misconduct Tribunals, and parliamentary committees.

Numbers of complaints against police are tracked and analysed, and the corruption that was once endemic and actively supported by senior officers and compliant politicians is now more localised, largely in problem areas like tourist and entertainment zones.

However, in recent years there has been an increasing reversion to police investigating police, as more complaints are referred back to the QPS to deal with.

The CMC's own audits reveal that one in five of these investigations is unsatisfactory and, despite this, there appear to be fewer CMC audits taking place. In addition, investigations seem to be slow and cumbersome. The CMC and QPS argue that a mature organisation should be responsible for its own integrity but experience from around the world suggests that police require close supervision and independent monitoring.

The 2009 Dangerous Liaisons report, together with the recent allegations, suggest that both the CMC and QPS need to ensure that misconduct processes retain public confidence, or risk having all police regarded as potentially suspect.


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