Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Police culture must change, warns CMC chairman

THE chief of Queensland's crime watchdog has warned it could take generations to change the state's police culture. The comments by Crime and Misconduct Commission chairman Martin Moynihan came as an independent review found the police complaints system was dysfunctional, unsustainable, plagued by chronic delays and urgently in need of a major overhaul.

Mr Moynihan said "no tolerance" change must come from the top but admitted it would not be easy. "(Police) do a difficult job and are often in a dangerous environment so you have to depend on one another (and) you build a culture that supports that," he said. "In a sense, that's not going to go away, but . . . if they address (discipline) in different ways, it'll be easier for them and they'll get better acceptance."

The scathing report, sparked by the 2004 Palm Island death in custody case and tabled in State Parliament, has recommended 57 changes to the beleaguered discipline and misconduct system.

It called for officers seconded to the Crime and Misconduct Commission to be banned from investigating their own, a practice that has been publicly condemned and instead using private investigators or interstate police.

But former high-ranking government bureaucrat Simone Webbe, who co-wrote the report, insisted the recommendation did not question officers' integrity but addressed negative public perceptions.

She also recommended additional powers for the CMC to challenge disciplinary decisions handed out by police, along with the right to refer cases deemed too lenient to the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal for review.

The State Government has supported the findings in principle and will form a solid position after public consultation closes in July.

The Queensland Police Union slammed the report as an ineffective instrument of reform that gave the CMC too much power. "It now gives the CMC the opportunity to be judge, jury and executioner if they do not agree with a decision made by the police service discipline system," QPU president Ian Leavers said.

The CMC has aimed to hand cases back to the police in a bid to boost the force's capacity to internally deal with allegations, but the report found the "devolution" policy meant complaints were referred down chains of command even "to the same station for investigation". "This is where police who know each other, and may work together, investigate the other. This scenario presents an inherent conflict for objective impartial investigations," it stated.

Often investigators then "overcooked" their inquiries for fear of being criticised or subjected to a misconduct probe themselves, amassing thousands of pages of evidence as they went "down every rabbit hole", even for less serious complaints. This created a "major chokepoint" in the system, the report found, with some cases in limbo as much as three years. It recommended seven months be the limit for serious cases and 28 days for lower-level allegations.

Police Minister Neil Roberts yesterday told The Courier-Mail "significant change" was needed but insisted the contentious practice of police investigating their own was legitimate. "I believe that there is a need for all organisations to be held accountable for identifying, detecting and dealing with its own," he said.

Yesterday's report also raised serious concerns about the dysfunctional information technology system, first earmarked for urgent upgrade a decade ago. A replacement system was planned under the phase three of the controversial QPRIME intranet rollout but that phase was scrapped.

The QPS said it would consider the report before making a submission.


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