Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Six Adelaide SAPOL police officers charged with theft, abuse of public office

POLICE will probe into the culture of the alleged offending of six officers arrested in the first major bust by the state’s new ICAC and its potential causes, Police Commissioner Gary Burns says.

Speaking outside the Police Association of SA annual delegates conference this morning, Mr Burns said a police department review of the Operation Mantle team where the officers worked would consider “the circumstances that may have fostered this type of behaviour to make sure it doesn’t happen again or in any other Mantle team”.

He said the seventh member of the team, a senior constable who has not faced charges, was also under investigation.

Mr Burns said the investigations of those officers, who have been suspended on full pay, may put cases they were working on under threat and also revealed the charges relating to property damage involved the destruction of potential police exhibits.

“That’s part of what we are looking at now — what the broader impact on policing is, in particular if these particular officers are involved in any arrests or reports that might be before the courts or going before the courts,” Mr Burns said.

He was unable to identify how many investigations it could affect.

Police Association of SA President Mark Carroll said the all members of the team are association members and should be considered innocent until proven guilty.  He said the association would be speaking with them over the coming days.

Earlier this morning, Mr Burns told 891 ABC radio the offending ranks as a “ten” on the scale of one to ten in its seriousness.

Despite considering the level of alleged corruption as low level, when asked on radio this morning to rank the seriousness of the alleged offending Mr Burns had no hesitation in putting it at the top of the scale.

“From a police department’s perspective I expect every police officer to act with honesty and integrity,” he told 891 ABC radio this morning.  “Talking to people within the department there’s quite a level of shock and horror about it.

“All I’m trying to say here is no form of corruption should be tolerated.  “From a police perspective this is something that really impacts on us particularly when it comes to public confidence.”

Mr Burns said he did not have a value of the goods allegedly taken by the officers charged.  He said while none of the goods could be considered high value there were greater issues at play for police.

“The issue for us is that these officers used their authority to enter premises to investigate drug offences and while they were doing that the allegation is that they took this type of equipment and they had no authority to do that,” he said.

Mr Burns agreed with the suggestion that prosecutors would allege the officers charged “got sticky fingers”.  “Yes, that’s right,” he said.

Mr Burns and Independent Commissioner Against Corruption Bruce Lander announced the officers, including a sergeant, were charged on Monday with abuse of public office and stealing items including alcohol and electronics.

Mr Burns conceded the arrests would damage the public impression of SA Police.  “The allegations are very disappointing,” Mr Burns told The Advertiser today.  “Obviously every police officer in South Australia ... will be concerned about this, because we work on reputation. “We need public confidence and public support.

“Any matter like this, where police officers are involved in criminality will always have an impact.” “It shouldn’t be seen as a reflection on the other 4500 police officers who go out and do their work on a daily basis to the best of their ability.”

He said a deeper probe of the Operation Mantle branch would be conducted.

The joint investigation was led by Mr Lander with assistance from SA Police’s Anti-Corruption Branch. The four men and two women will appear in court on December 19.

The six officers are part of a seven-person Operation Mantle drug squad operating from the Sturt police station. They include a sergeant, senior constables and constables:

 * A 53-year-old man from Darlington has been charged with abuse of public office and aggravated theft.

 * A 43-year-old man from Aberfoyle Park has been charged with two counts of abuse of public office, two counts of theft, and property damage.

 * A 38-year-old man from Woodcroft has been charged with two counts of abuse of public office, two counts of aggravated theft and property damage.

 * A 33-year-old man from Camden Park has been charged with abuse of public office and aggravated theft.

 * A 31-year-old woman from Sellicks Beach has been charged with abuse of public office, aggravated theft and property damage.

 * A 27-year-old woman from Woodcroft has been charged with abuse of public office and aggravated theft.

Mr Burns said “irregularities” were first raised with senior police in January and February this year.  The ICAC was then alerted, as required by legislation, including interviews with the one member not arrested and former staff in the unit.

“This is isolated to a small group,” Mr Burns insisted. “We’ll be looking at what opportunities they had that formed this little subculture that they operated.”

The six officers face a total of 18 charges including abuse of public office, aggravated theft and property damage. They range in age from 27 to 53.  The group is not accused of onselling the allegedly stolen property.

Mr Lander, a former Federal Court judge, said he took charge of the inquiry to ensure that a person independent of the police force was probing the allegations.

Mr Lander said the accused officers had “let down” the force but he remained impressed by the professionalism of Anti-Corruption Branch officers he had worked with.  “I thought it appropriate that somebody independent of SAPOL head the investigation because of the allegations that have been made,” Mr Lander said.

“I’m satisfied with the integrity of the Anti-Corruption Branch. “I think they would have still carried out the investigation even if I had not been occupying the position I did.”

Mr Lander said he was “disappointed” by both the allegations and evidence uncovered.

Mr Burns said Operation Mantle was dispatched to deal with “low level” drug dealing and street crime. There was “no indication” the officers had stolen drugs, he said.  “It’s mainly in the lower-category items. Liquor, tools, some electronics,” Mr Burns said.

“The arrests today don’t finalise the investigation. This investigation will be ongoing.”

SA became the last state in the nation to set up an ICAC when the new watchdog became operational in September last year. This is its first case to result in arrests.

Mr Lander has previously revealed he had referred some allegations for prosecution.

Premier Jay Weatherill said he was disappointed by the allegations but said the arrests vindicated his move to set up an ICAC after having claimed the Labor leadership.

“Of course it’s awful when we see these breaches in public trust,” he said. “The public should have confidence the ICAC is doing its work and, where it finds these instances of breaches of public integrity, it’s rooting them out and bringing people to justice.

“The truth is there are still people that engage in opportunistic episodes of corruption, and we’re seeing that revealed. “It’s a good thing though (that) before these things take hold and become institutionalised that they’re able to be searched for, found and the people that have had these breaches of public trust brought to justice.  “I’m confident that it’s an isolated instance.”

The officers have been suspended from duty pending court proceedings.

Last month, Mr Lander told The Advertiser he had referred a middle-ranking public servant to the Director of Public Prosecutions and was preparing other briefs.

He said one case under investigation related to the “conduct of a senior person in public administration’’ and local government was over-represented in complaints.

Of more than 900 complaints and reports made in the first year of the ICAC’s operation, less than 60 are under investigation for corruption-related offences after being assessed.

Mr Lander’s first report to State Parliament is expected to be tabled within weeks.


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