Monday, October 18, 2010
Airlie beach abuse sounds the alarm over a rotten Queensland police culture
The violence dealt out by former officer Benjamin Price points to a grand-scale breakdown within our police force: "They showed no more caution than a bunch of druggies raiding a servo with a stick"
All Queensland police would have been shamed, embarrassed, humiliated and angered by videos showing former officer Benjamin Price strong-arming tiny Renee Toms and water-torturing Timothy Steele. Along with most ofthe 172,000 people who had watched the events on YouTube (as of Friday morning) they would have thought it was one of the lowest, most cowardly and disgusting displays of sadistic power-tripping they had seen.
Well, not of all of them, because the videos seemed to suggest that it was nothing much out of the ordinary at Airlie Beach police station, where officers are seen walking around the violence like you and I might step around a floor cleaner. It was very much business as usual, with a little bit of professional courtesy thrown in as one officer was seen handing Price the fire hose. There didn’t even seem to be the slightest bit of concern - let alone criminal cunning - over the fact that unsavoury events were being captured by video cameras, which they must have known about. They showed no more caution than a bunch of druggies raiding a servo with a stick.
This is the real problem for the Queensland Police Service as it deals with the backwash of a series of appalling events. That one policeman abused his authority is sad but no great surprise. But the fact that of nine police oticers on the periphery of the events that led to Price’s jailing only one, Constable Bree Sonter, did her duty as an officer and human being is shocking.
Five have quit and three are under investigation. Only Sonter has emerged with any credit, although her future in the force might not be a happy one. Throw in Price, and a failure rate of nine out of l0 is not too flash in any circumstance.
Airlie Beach is not exactly Gotham City, so this represents a failure of discipline, purpose, professionalism, process and moral courage on a grand scale. The force is justly proud of the fact that about a quarter of all complaints against officers are now made by police themselves but that cannot alter the fact that more than 50 per cent of those assigned to Airlie Beach were derelict in their duty.
If you subscribe to the rotten apple theory of policing, this barrel was pretty putrid, leaving a smell that has got right up the noses of most Queenslanders. It's not a question of police bashing. lt’s a question of squandered resources and squandered trust.
Think about it. One rogue cops gets off on brutalising people and, because of sins of omission, we lose five other trained officers and have three more under a very dark cloud. One rogue cop goes ape and all the good deeds, good policing and good reputations of thousands of others are trashed. And probably a million bucks is blown on compo for Price’s victims.
Attorney-General Cameron Dick says he is considering an appeal against the leniency of Price’s sentence because of the community outrage over the security camera footage.
They could throw away the key for all I care, but that’s not really the point. The point is that after an individual meltdown there was a collective breakdown in professionalism and process in a force that has more brass than a South American army, more regions than we have states, more districts than a red-headed kid has freckles, more inspectors and sergeants than there are bouncers at a Valley pub and more cops per capita driving desks than any other force in Australia.
Yet, it still seems to go off course with monotonous regularity, We need to know more, including just what happened to the mid-rampage reports of serious misconduct allegedly made about Price by his station oflicer.
ln a hierarchical institution, authority goes downward and responsibility goes upward. Sometimes, responsibility seems to hit a very low ceiling.
The article above by Terry Sweetman appeared (print only) in the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on 17 October, 2010