Monday, February 21, 2011

Qld. Cops soft on their own

CMC chief Martin Moynihan says lax internal investigations erode public confidence in police, writes Renee Viellaris

The head of Queensland’s crime watchdog has accused police of having double standards and urged the service to rigorously investigate members accused of wrongdoing. Crime and Misconduct Commission chairman Martin Moynihan said some police shielded their own from scrutiny but he denied the problem was endemic

He stressed that the pre-Fitzgerald era of widespread police corruption had not returned to Queensland but said vigilance was needed. The former Judge has provided a frank assessment at the anniversary of his first year in the Job and his comments are likely to further antagonise senior police.

"Community confidence ln the police has to start with the police cultivating it", Mr Moynihan said. Community confidence was undermined when complaints from the public were investlgated by officers belonging to the same police unit as the alleged offenders.

Asked if it was a perception or reality that there was one rule for police and one rule for others, Mr Moynihan said, "I think it's probably both". He said it was worth serious consideration to limit the time any police commissioner could serve. Commissioner Bob Atkinson has been in power for a decade. Many senior government positions have fixed terms. Asked whether Mr Atkinson was doing a good job, Mr Moynihan said, “I think he’s doing OK. I mean, he’s doing his job".

Mr Moynihan singled out “heroic”- young police who spoke out about the bad apples in the service. Constable Bree Sonter blew the whistle on then-Senior Constable Benjamin Price, 32, who shoved a hose down the throat of Timothy Steele, 24, at Airlie Beach ln 2008. Price is no longer in the service. Mr Moynihan said more police would come forward if they felt they would be supported by the system.

(Police Union president) Ian Leavers is always saying to me that honest police get tarred with the same brush so I keep saying to him if that's their concern if they step up when they see what's going on then they can contribute to that not happening, Mr Moynihan said

The QPS has moved to fix some procedural weaknesses but sources say it is the high-profile cases that polarise the organisation. At the heart of that analysis is the Palm Island saga sparked after Cameron Doomadgee, also known as Mulrunji, died in custody in 2004. The CMC took aim at four police who investigated Doomadgee's death and the two officers who conducted a review of the initial death in custody investigation. Last year when Mr Moynihan released the CMC's review of the matter he said the original investigatlon and review were seriously flawed. They were characterised by double standards and an unwillingness to publicly acknowledge failings on part of the police, he said.

Misconduct disciplinary action was recommended against the four original investigators and disciplinary action against the reviewers. Mr Atkinson appointed Deputy Commissioner Kathy Rynders to determine whether the six officers should face any disciplinary action. Recently, she found they should receive managerial guidance [only].

Before that decision was announced, The Sunday Mail asked why Mr Atkinson had appointed Ms Rynders, given the CMC had appealed against her findings in the past. The response, which is being put on the record for the first time, highlights the tension with the CMC and the frustration of Mr Atkinson - who ticked off on the statement. “If there were concems they (CMC) could have voiced them or assumed responsibility for the matter,” the statement said. “They have a range of formal avenues open to them if they are unhappy with the outcome of the disciplinary process.”

The CMC is now considering Ms Rynders’ findings and will announce its position in coming weeks.

Above article appeared in the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on 20 Feb., 2011

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