Saturday, September 4, 2010

Queensland police told to boost random street checks

As in the days of Terry Lewis, the rot starts at the top among the Qld. wallopers

INNOCENT people, including elderly women, are being caught in a police competition to clock up the highest tally of random "street checks".

In a move that has upset rank-and-file officers, senior police are demanding beat cops rack up the checks at every opportunity. Street checks usually involve stopping a person, asking what they are doing, where they are going and taking note of their name, address and identifying details such as their clothing.

The Queensland Police Service admitted regional management encouraged the checks, as they "demonstrated to potential offenders that police are about and have noted their presence". It denied there were quotas. "They also demonstrate to the community that police are about, stopping people, talking to people and making themselves aware of who is spending time in the local area," a QPS spokesman said.

Although police have the power to request such information, they can demand identification details only in "prescribed circumstances", such as when someone may be able to help an investigation or is suspected of a crime. The information is stored by police intelligence and used to help identify potential suspects or witnesses near crime scenes.

But disgruntled officers from Brisbane's Metropolitan South region said it had become "purely about the numbers" and even elderly women were being street-checked. "It's a matter of 'who's got the most'. The chief superintendent will say 'Morningside's done 59, what have you got?'," a Wynnum district officer said. "We've had 73 and 76-year-old women getting street-checked simply to boost figures. We don't have any power to demand any details off them. It's all purely bluff."

Sam Ward, 28, said he was embarrassed when police officers stopped him as he walked along the footpath at Yeronga one morning this year after buying a newspaper. He said he was stopped outside his neighbour's house and asked a series of questions about what he was doing. "They were nice cops but still, if I had the choice, I would rather it had not have happened," Mr Ward said. "They told me they have to take down a certain amount of names each shift or their boss will think they have done nothing."

The Queensland Police Union said street checks should be about "quality, not quantity". "It is becoming increasingly clear that some senior police are wanting police on the beat to undertake street checks purely to drive up the quota on the number of street checks performed in any given period, for the purposes of better Operational Performance Review figures," union president Ian Leavers said. "Police have no problem conducting legitimate and beneficial street checks. However they see no benefit in asking random people for their identification details."

A Queensland Police Service spokesman said there was no quota for street checks but "shift objectives may be set which may include officers being required to complete street checks during their rostered shifts". "Police have the power/entitlement to speak to persons irrespective of whether they are suspected of committing a crime," he said.

But Michael Cope of the Queensland Council of Civil Liberties said police were taking advantage of ordinary people's ignorance. "Because people don't know they're not obliged to answer these questions, police are collecting all this information for no obvious reason," Mr Cope said. He said the QCCL regularly received complaints about the practice and had written to the Police Service expressing its concern. "Most people will supply them with information because they think they have to," he said. "There's the implication that if they don't, they'll be carted off down the station."


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