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Edition 57

Contents
Memoir

Lessons of history

Keeping politics out of policing

If he were allowed contact with foreigners he would discover that they are creatures similar to himself and that most of what he has been told about them
is lies. The sealed world in which he lives would be broken, and the fear, hatred,
and self-righteousness on which his morale depends might evaporate.

George Orwell, 1984

 

I COULDN’T MOVE. Curled up paralysed at the bottom of the stairs I just wanted the screams to stop. My brother couldn’t stop his cries and my dad wouldn’t stop hitting him with the belt. I shrank as small as I could and did nothing. I can still hear my brother’s screams, even now. To my eternal shame, I was so glad it wasn’t me.

It was probably a weekend because we never saw Dad much during the week. There was always a pattern to these things, an escalation, for not doing as we were told. There would be a ‘you wait ’til your father gets home’ from Mum or, worse, failure to instantly comply to Dad’s commands.

Then his questioning, anger and threats. The ‘I’ll box your ears for you’ if we responded in any way that wasn’t what he wanted. Crying just made things worse – ‘I’ll give you something to cry about’, followed by a smack to the head or the leg. On the good nights we would be given the option: ‘Do you want me to give you something to cry about?’ And if things were going really bad, it was ‘Do you want me to get the belt out?’ coupled with the demand of the right answer and no tears.

This time maybe my brother answered back, maybe he cried as he gave the answer, maybe he was too scared to give any answer. I can’t remember. This time Dad showed he meant it.

Memory is a tricky thing but I think this first beating was when I was seven or eight, my brother thirteen or fourteen. His original crime? It could have been anything from answering back to hanging out with a friend our parents didn’t like, I don’t remember. I do remember that one of the later beatings happened because he’d spent his birthday, Christmas or paper-round money on a pair of fashionable winklepicker shoes.

I was so scared.

There were no ameliorating times. Ours was not an affectionate family. Children were ‘to be seen and not heard’. There was no talking at the meal table unless an adult spoke to you and all food was to be eaten without complaint. I can recall one hug as a child – from an auntie.

I don’t think of this as a ‘woe is me story’. It was what it was. I was shocked the other day when an old school friend referred to it as ‘an abusive background’. Plenty of my other friends had similar situations at home. Times were just different then. To remove events and behaviour from their context more often than not leads to an artificial or even a deluded sense of reality.

At the outbreak of World War II my dad lied about his age and occupation so that he could immediately enlist. He spent most of the war in North Africa. After enduring the bombing of Birmingham, my mum went to the south of England to work on farms in the Land Army.

On 1 September 1939 they were eighteen and twenty-one years old respectively. They were ordinary young people at the start of the war, no more or less exceptional than anyone else. Six years of their lives were ‘lost’. My brother was born in December 1945. There was still rationing in the UK when I was born in 1951. Whether my parents became facilitators or actual abusers is not a question for this piece of writing. For what it’s worth I think the answer is both yes, no and plenty of stuff in between.

But the result for me was that I found ways not to be beaten. I’d still get the hits but never the belt. I learnt how to stop it going that far – I became so much more alert to changes in words, tones and mannerisms. Combining that with the dearth of physical affection meant much of my time was spent learning what I could do to get people to like me. Perversely, this probably made me a halfway decent undercover police officer in later life.

But deep inside I developed an abiding hatred of bullies.

 

LIKE ALL OF us I have opinions about a variety of social issues. I read, I watch, I listen and I exchange views. I have no special ability but I do have experience with an influential agency common to all Western democracies – policing. And this actual experience spans two separate but connected countries: the UK and Australia. As I wrote this article on 22 March 2017, the news came in about the stabbing murder of Police Constable Keith Palmer at Westminster in London and the associated deaths of three (later four) civilians. At the time it appeared the assailant acted alone so the investigation centred on whether this was part of an organised series of events, whether he was acting on orders, whether it was an act of terrorism. It seemed probable that it was an expression of religious fundamentalism, and would be met by a frothing populist response.

This is the type of incident that places police forces under significant pressure and importantly highlights where the police stand in relation to government, the people and the law. There is a tension between the institutions of justice in Western democracies. That is the way it should be, the checks and balances of power preserve freedom. An understanding, a piece of legislation, a mission statement, a media release are completely insufficient to maintain the balance. It is the doing that matters.

So do the police simply investigate such a tragedy or do they have a duty that goes beyond the investigation, to preserve and enhance the cohesiveness of society? How police respond to such events and the political reactions determines the living nature of our society. We need to pay attention to the primary purpose of policing. Are the police guardians of democracy or warriors against crime?

It is of course true there are some offences now that are more prevalent than when I was a serving officer, just as there are some less prevalent. But by far the majority of offences are still the same as they have been for centuries. No offences are created or enforced in a vacuum. They are all subject to the abiding culture of the originating society. In turn the prevalent police culture has a very significant role in how citizens experience the law. In the past, some governments both here and overseas have been content to leave the police to do their job at arm’s length from the political process. Some police organisations used to hold the line that they would communicate in such a way that people who had been arrested entered the judicial system with the principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ intact.

This is not the way things have been done in Queensland and it has probably never been the case. It has now been shown through both the Fitzgerald Inquiry and Matthew Condon’s books on the postwar corruption in Queensland that government and law enforcement in the state were entwined well before the reign of the corrupt commissioner and paedophile Frank Bischof from 1958–69.

It is only the determination of enough individual police officers to do the right thing that has prevented the full-blown transformation of the Queensland Police Service into a government department subject to the whims and fancies of whichever political party gains power. Despite the significant impact of the Fitzgerald Inquiry, the single greatest obstacle to meaningful reform of the Queensland Police is that we have simply never experienced sustained good policing at an organisational level in the state. Neither the public nor the police have experience of what good policing is. That is a lethal position for democracy.

The mercurial and somewhat haphazard resurfacing of right-wing populism around the globe has already seen many a political policy position shifted to the right in an attempt to stop the leakage of votes. We are now under increased electronic surveillance, supposedly for our own good. Our police have greater powers, some historically sacrosanct legal protections have been abandoned and our court systems are closed for certain types of trials.

In Queensland we perhaps ought to be able to place some faith in the existence of the Crime and Corruption Commission to prevent any police corruption or misconduct. The CCC is the third iteration of an oversight body established as a result of the recommendations of the Fitzgerald Inquiry nearly thirty years ago. However, it has been moved so far away from the original intent of its first creation as to be almost unrecognisable.

Whether it is organised crime, terrorism or any other significant policing event it requires good policing to both solve the crime and preserve the rights of the citizenry. And if that goes wrong because of political pressure for results, the consequent impact on some individuals and our faith in our institutions can be catastrophic.

 

IN SEPTEMBER 1975 I joined the West Midlands Police Force. Ten months before, on 21 November 1974 at 8.30 pm, the city centre of my home town, Birmingham in the UK, was a scene of chaos. Two pubs had been bombed in the CBD. At just after a quarter past eight in the evening the Mulberry Bush bomb exploded. Ten minutes later a bomb in the underground Tavern in the Town exploded. Another bomb just outside the city centre failed to explode. These were both young people’s pubs, twenty-one people were killed, one hundred and eighty-two injured. A nurse friend of mine, called into the operating theatres, talked of doctors having to use carpenters’ tools to remove pieces of furniture from the bodies of the wounded.

Within hours, police had arrested six men who were about to board a ferry to Belfast: Hugh Callaghan, Patrick Hill, Gerard Hunter, Richard McIlkenny, William Power and John Walker. They were said to be members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army and became known as the Birmingham Six. It was announced that four of them had confessed and there was forensic evidence to link them to the explosions. They were tried and convicted and each was sentenced to twenty-one life sentences.

As a young officer in the West Midlands Police during an ‘in-service’ training course, myself and a number of others officers were lectured by a member of the arrest team about the validity of the arrests. We all believed his retelling of the story. The IRA mainland bombing campaign made for challenging times. We patrolled on our own and were often called to ‘suspect parcels’. There just were not enough specialist personnel to attend every call. We would go to the location and do our best to assess whether the item was innocent or not and whether we needed to call in the Army Bomb Squad.

After two failed appeals, eventually in 1991 the Birmingham Six would finally be cleared of any involvement. It was found that they had been bashed, verballed and fitted up with false forensic evidence. Four of them were forced to sign ‘confessions’. They were not alone. The Guildford Four and the Maguire Seven were also cleared of any involvement in IRA bombings for which they had been imprisoned.

To this date, the actual perpetrators of the Birmingham bombings have never been arrested, even though they are known. None of the arresting police have been prosecuted. The British government embargo on the official documents does not run out for more than thirty years.

Now every time I hear of a raid on a Muslim household I suspend judgement. Sometimes, those in authority tell us events, though traumatic, are simple and straightforward in their explanation and that the solutions are evident. Yes, sometimes things are that simple. And sometimes they are not. Just ask the remaining members and families of the Birmingham Six or the mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, children and friends of those killed and injured more than forty years ago.

 

IT’S EARLY, A drizzly morning, Saturday 8 October 1977. I’m a little apprehensive but not showing it. I hardly recognise anybody around me, and those I do I couldn’t name. A few days before, this had seemed like a good idea. I was supposed to be on the early turn anyway – six in the morning until two in the afternoon. But this would definitely mean overtime and we could always use extra money. So a bit more in the pay packet for a quick trip up the M6 to Manchester looked good. Pretty much all we had been told was there was some sort of march taking place by the far-right, anti-immigration National Front, which the International Socialists and others had vowed to stop. Neither side was known for its peaceful behaviour or tolerance of each other.

England has a long tradition of extreme right-wing groups. Prior to the Second World War, Sir Oswald Mosley established the British Union of Fascists, which just prior to the outbreak of war was sufficiently popular to attract fifty thousand supporters to a meeting in Earls Court, London. This was at a time when there was significant support for fascism from the British monarchy and lesser aristocrats. Earlier, upon his abdication in 1936, King Edward VIII had assumed the title of the Duke of Windsor and the following year, against the advice of the British government, together with his wife, he visited Germany and met Adolf Hitler at his Obersalzberg retreat. The visit was much publicised by the German media, in part for the Duke’s use of the full Nazi salute during the visit.

So after the trauma and horrible revelations of the Second World War, why just over twenty years later would a party like the National Front emerge in the UK? Why would there be even a short-lived attempt in 1977 to establish branch offices in South Africa, New Zealand and Australia? Branches were formed in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland.

I was in D unit, Belgrave Road Police Station, Birmingham. It was a busy and diverse subdivision that radiated outwards like a wedge from the city centre. This was general duties policing, the backbone of any police force. I had been in the job for more than two years and I loved it. I loved the variety of work. I loved the personal challenges that being on one’s own threw my way. I loved the role and the expectations on me to deal with the community with common sense and fairness, enforcing laws when necessary but also managing dramas so they didn’t get out of hand. And I especially loved the way it was teaching me how to communicate.

Largely, we all patrolled on our own, calling for assistance if we needed it. Policewomen were no different to their male counterparts. With courses, holidays and sick leave it was not unusual for me to be the only male out on patrol. I didn’t care about the low pay – I had finally found my niche in life. My wife and I lived rent-free in a police house and we had enough to pay the bills. We’d been able to buy a car, and as long as we were careful we had enough money to get through with sometimes a bit to spare.

I loved being an ordinary uniformed officer – a walking-the-streets or driving-a-patrol-car type policeman. In hindsight, I can see that on a personal level it was also a blessed release from my constant, all-consuming, unconscious default position of wanting people to like me. In those days, in a quite bizarre way, having a role of whatever sort almost always suppressed that craving for being liked or loved. The responsibility of the role would always dominate.

There was a facility between the police forces of England and Wales whereby chief constables of one force could ask for assistance from other police forces. But this was not usual. It would be a rare chief constable who, by implication, would admit they couldn’t handle events on their own patch. So it seemed the numbers involved were going to be large and a degree of violence was anticipated in Manchester that day.

Crowd control was just part of our normal job. Demonstrations both peaceful and violent were normal, as was controlling thirty to fifty thousand football fans at Villa Park, St. Andrews, Molineux or the Hawthorns. During initial and subsequent training we had all seen film footage of the Grosvenor Square anti-Vietnam demonstrations in London in the late ’60s where the Metropolitan police had really struggled to control well prepared and organised demonstrators. And across the Irish Sea, the conflict in Northern Ireland was informing protest groups in the UK about effective tactics to disrupt police control of demonstrations.

On that morning in 1977, I finally found a few general duties officers from Belgrave Road and about the same number from Bournville Lane Police Station in the B2 sub-division. So who were these other police? It finally dawned on us – they were office staff from Divisional Headquarters. You could tell by their shiny uniform trousers.

A little concerned, we boarded our two coaches. Lots of jokes, light-hearted banter. We were taken to a massive hall on the outskirts of Manchester, where we had a rudimentary briefing basically telling us that as non-Manchester police we were to be used as part of a large circle of police around the entire city centre blocking every single road in and out. Some left- and right-wing demonstrators would already be inside the circle but there would be enough local police to handle any trouble they might create.

It is hard to get accurate figures about that day. I know we were told on the day that there would be approximately one thousand right-wing supporters marching, and up to forty thousand anti-racist, left-wing supporters would be trying to locate the National Front and prevent their march. There was some mention made of the National Front wanting to lodge nomination papers for one of their members to stand in the upcoming local elections, but that didn’t make any subsequent press reports.

As the Manchester police had kept the main march location secret, the various left-wing groups had positioned their members at a range of locations to ensure some opposition could be mounted while reinforcements made their way to the conflict. We were also warned that members of the International Socialists with walkie-talkie radios were patrolling the streets on motorbikes and scooters in an attempt to find the location of the main National Front march and a way through the circular cordon.

Some of us from the West Midlands had been involved with both political groups the previous year when the National Front decided that it was not acceptable for white boys to be seen on the streets with black girls and vice versa. Their means of intimidation was a shotgun blast from a moving car in the general direction of the offending couple. That brought the anti-racist and leftist groups in their many hundreds onto the streets of Wolverhampton every weekend for a month or so demanding strong action against the National Front.

The journey to our post that afternoon in Manchester was instructive. The closer we got, the less talk there was. When we arrived at our main intersection and left the coach, the general duties officers were still chatting but there was not a single one of us who was not concerned about the office staff who were totally silent and seemed to be shrinking before our eyes. When you are standing in a line facing people who are not very keen on you, you have to be able to rely on the officer on either side of you. You cannot become isolated.

Fortunately, we had a quiet day. We received the message to open the intersection late in the afternoon and hundreds from inside the circle streamed out past us, including marching squads of Manchester police. And it was obvious that it hadn’t been a peaceful day for everyone.

For that day all ordinary leave and rest days for the Greater Manchester Police had been cancelled. A few thousand police from other forces were shipped in, making a total of about six to seven thousand officers on duty. This in order to allow the National Front to exercise their democratic right to march and also to allow the various left-wing groups to also exercise their democratic rights to protest. The cost of ensuring minimum casualties to any of the participants and virtually no property damage? In today’s money, roughly two million dollars.

I always felt that if the National Front were throwing bricks at us, and the anarchists were throwing Molotov cocktails at us, we were in the right spot.

IN 1978, WE migrated to Australia. I had the intention of joining the police force in Queensland, and naively thought that it would be no different to the West Midlands police. I’d made an application to join before I left the UK, but when I arrived I was greeted by the news that they couldn’t find it, so the process started again. While I waited, I returned to being a chef and attempted, in vain, to get used to the climate.

I watched with confusion and more than a little bit of judgement when the television news would carry footage of a street march. I was stunned at how peaceful the protesters were. I was disgusted at how poorly organised and lacking in discipline the police appeared to be. And I couldn’t make sense of government statements about the events. What did this have to do with any politician? To my understanding operational police work was not to be interfered with by any body. And no attempt should ever be made by government to influence such things. As a uniformed officer in Britain in the pre-Thatcher days, I was used to an apolitical police force operating without fear or favour regardless of the individual beliefs of the officers or the desires of government. I didn’t understand what I was about to walk into.

When I started my training in Brisbane, things became even more confusing. It was largely classroom learning by rote. There was nothing about how to do the job – it was all about going through the Acts of Parliament we would most use and learning how to replicate the wording precisely. I hadn’t experienced that type of teaching since secondary school. This went on for months with the only interruptions being some instruction on arrest holds, two or three sessions with firearms, one mock court session, a visit to the morgue and one to the courts. Once a week we did social studies for a couple of hours.

Not only was it mind-numbingly boring, but it did very little to prepare us for going out among the public. Towards the end of the training an inspector and sergeant from traffic took each of us for a drive to basically see if we could – drive that is. Presumably the theory was if you could drive then you could drive safely at speed because you had a siren and a flashing light.

We spent a week or so marching around getting ready for the swearing-in parade. After that we were divided into thirds and posted to one of the three main inner-city police stations in Brisbane – City, Fortitude Valley or Woolloongabba – to continue our training for a further three months. At the beginning of each shift we would be paired with another fellow probationary officer and given a beat – a set route to continuously walk on a prescribed side of the road, at a prescribed pace and in a prescribed direction – positively Dickensian.

We also learned quickly that each of the stations was also unofficially deemed a punishment station for officers who needed greater supervision because of their previous less-than-successful interactions with members of the public. But at City station even that didn’t work because the sergeants rarely ventured beyond the front door. And if they did it would probably include the close examination of the inside of the rear entrance of a variety of licensed establishments.

My first two postings after training were City Station and then Nundah police station. At least I was back on the streets, albeit in a limited way. Though even that wasn’t without incident as I arrested an off-duty detective for wilful damage, which just about cruelled my chances of being employee of the month. And then inexplicably, just over halfway through my posting to Nundah, I was transferred to the Licensing Branch. Which in most other police forces is called the Vice Squad.

 

IT IS EARLY summer 1979. It’s a typical hot and humid early evening in Brisbane. I am back in the job I love to pieces but I am not happy. I am at work, though it’s a bit of a euphemism to call it that. I am not doing what I am trained to do; not doing anything productive; not even really understanding what we are supposed to be doing, and I am seriously not fitting in to my new posting. The atmosphere in the office varies from comatose to paranoid.

We are supposed to be going out on patrol but instead we are playing nursemaid to some drunken detective who thinks he is way too brilliant to find his own way home. Because he knows a few people in the office, rather than do what we are paid to do, we are giving him a lift home. I’m new in the squad so I have to sit in the back of the car. I am not going to rock the boat on that – and in any case if he throws up I’m probably safer in the rear. The conversation is going on in the front but it’s pretty much about their mutual experiences. I am not required. Then with a sort of knowing superior grin, the drunk, Mark, turns around and slurs at me ‘Are you nationalised yet?’

Now hindsight is a wonderful thing, it is just such a waste that it entails looking back and is not instantly available because my life changed with the following exchange:

‘Don’t you mean naturalised?’

‘Ah, you fucking smart-arsed Pommy cunt!’

I looked straight back at him with no words and he turned back to his self-serving conversation with his mate. In my own mind I might have protected my fragile ego, but deep inside the old childhood survival patterns were triggered and they would quietly grow over the top of my sanctuary in the role of a police officer.

 

BY 1985, I am perched at the end of the bar table in one of the Magistrate’s Courts in Brisbane. The small courtroom is packed. There are no spare seats, so spectators are standing at the back of the court. I am right at the end because the remainder of the space is taken up with a defence QC, junior counsel, solicitor, law clerk and the accused, Queensland Senator George Georges, elder statesman and darling of the Australian Labor Party.

This was the time of the blackouts by striking electricity workers. Importantly for me this was also the time when Bjelke-Petersen instructed police to use his newly passed piece of legislation, The Electricity (Continuity of Supply) Act 1985. We already had perfectly adequate existing powers and legislation to deal with any trouble on the picket lines. I had been suddenly transferred out of the Licensing Branch almost two years earlier. Part of me was angry because I seemed to be finally getting closer to some truth about what was happening in the vice area. But another part of me was naively glad I wouldn’t have to watch my back all the time; and still another part was relieved to be back in uniform.

In hindsight this really was the beginning of the end of my life in policing. I had deferred the actual end for a couple of years by finding a sanctuary in Police Prosecutions. I guess if I had my time again I might have been able to save my career by heading straight back to the UK. But to be honest I just did not realise the extent of the problem I had touched on. Even when they tried to set me up to be kicked out of the Police Union, it didn’t sink in.

There were enough decent uniform police in Queensland that it never entered my head that I would feel I had to resign. And it wasn’t just my work life that was facing disruption. My life was a mess, and by far the majority of that was down to my almost complete lack of insight into how I actually conducted myself in my personal life.

About a week before the summary trial I’d been called into my inspector’s office at Brisbane Police Prosecutions. He explained to me that the first trials of arrested South East Queensland Electricity Board workers and others were about to start. He told me he and another officer from Legal and Training would handle the first two or three cases and he wanted me and another prosecutor to handle the rest. I was shocked. These were high-profile matters. Not only was I close to being the lowest ranked officer in the section but when the legislation was being debated I was not subtle about my disgust at this government interference.

I plucked up the courage and asked: ‘Why me, sir?’ He replied that it was partly because of my attitude about interference that he trusted me not to turn this into a political bunfight in court. He followed it up by saying he wouldn’t order me to do it and if I wanted to think about it overnight that would be okay as well. I took the chance to think it through.

Contrary to the way many think about the players in our courtrooms, the role of the prosecutor is not primarily to get a conviction but rather to assist the court to find the truth of the matter. Many decisions have been overturned because a prosecutor has failed to reveal exculpatory evidence to the defence and the court or because the prosecutor has been unfairly overzealous.

I treasured that ‘truth’ position even though I struggled a little with the whole concept of police prosecutions. To me it had always been a point of ideal independence that as a police officer I arrested people and put the matters before courts for others to argue about. Largely if I had enough of the correct evidence then matters would go as they should. Police representing police in court always seemed a bit like an infringement that went a little too close to pushing the bounds of our lawful role. So I fanatically steered the traditional line and played tough but fair with defence lawyers. And I had no problem telling arresting officers of whatever rank that their brief of evidence was deficient if it was and to come back when I could properly take it into court.

This was also about the time that the state government was using the police to pursue the politically charged abortion issue. Again, for me, an unacceptable crossing of the boundary between government and police. Deliberately or otherwise, my boss had played to my passion for police independence so I said I’d do it.

This unashamed level of interference in policing by a largely ill-informed and ignorant government accompanied by the realisation that nothing was about to change in the Licensing Branch were two of the nails in the coffin of my police career. A short while later I resigned.

 

IT SHOULD BE pretty obvious to most that the involvement of police with political parties, and therefore with government, really does pose many serious issues with whatever version of the separation of powers you might want to adopt. In any scenario the public need to be assured that the police will act according to law and not have a personal or political agenda guiding their actions. In Queensland we have strayed so far from this notion of independence that it would be laughable were it not so serious.

We have allowed legislation to pass that makes it lawful for the government to direct the commissioner under section 4.6 (2) of the Police Service Administration Act 1990. There are some safeguards in place in that such directions must be recorded and yearly returns made to all sorts of people. But really this is the same sort of nonsense as the effectiveness of criminal legislation. These days all commissioners are on contract, which is not an accountability measure but it is the antithesis of trust. What is not and can never successfully be legislated for are the conversations between minister and commissioner.

Societies have been passing laws about murder, rape, theft, damage and so on since way before Magna Carta. Crime is still with us. Why? Are we just phrasing the legislation wrong? Have we not got the punctuation quite right? The issue is that we are attempting to control human behaviour and emotions. We are not logical creatures even though we can employ logic. We are not so easily contained within such a linear thinking model. Together with deductive reasoning, this reliance on the model of laws and rules beloved by males is a consummate failure. But we seemingly cannot find a way to rid ourselves of such stupidity.

The police minister has a briefing on the police incidents throughout the state every morning. These are detailed briefings, but for what purpose? Why does the minister need to know the ins and outs of homicides, rapes and other serious crimes? One excellent reason from the perspective of a police commissioner, who wants to perpetuate the myth of the thin blue line protecting us all from the ravaging hordes, is that such information is highly appealing to those who have little or no experience of the harshness and cruelty of some people’s lives.

Our myths and legends are replete with the notion of good versus evil, the righteous against the ungodly. Our systems of belief, our films, TV series, plays, books and news feeds are constantly full of the binary. To those who have little or no actual experience in the darker side of life this is a very seductive topic when sitting in the comfort of their office or lounge room. The problem is that this lack of actual experience leads to stupid emotional decisions based on limited knowledge or even worse, misinformation. I have witnessed so many highly qualified people from all walks of life allow themselves to be seduced by being proximate to criminal matters. A very senior lawyer at the Fitzgerald Inquiry once told me during the hearings when I questioned what seemed to be conduct by the Inquiry that bordered on contempt of court (and was at least prejudicial treatment of an accused in another jurisdiction) ‘...anyway Nigel you know what it’s like, we’ve got to get these bastards any way we can’.

Police are able to access potentially sensitive information. Lest we think this is in our past, as recently as before the 2012 Queensland election a serving police officer who was also a senior member of the Liberal National Party accessed the QPS database to check out prospective pre-selection candidates for the state seat of Nanango. This action was discovered by chance and not reported to police by the LNP. The consequence for him was ‘managerial guidance’, which was supported by the CCC.

Without a truly apolitical police department we can never effectively and efficiently deal with social ills. So while warriors against crime are important, that needs to take place in a democracy.

The tension between institutions is the way balance is kept. How laws impact on the population has to be guarded by independent policing. For there are many who would dilute democracy for their own ends.

The following is one model that strives for this vital independence and that is directed towards protecting us all:

The basic mission for which the Queensland Police exist is to prevent crime and disorder as an alternative to the repression of crime and disorder by military force and severity of legal punishment. And the ability of the Queensland Police to perform their duties is dependent upon public approval of police existence, actions, behaviour and the ability of the police to secure and maintain public respect.

The Queensland Police must secure the willing co-operation of the public in voluntary observance of the law to be able to secure and maintain public respect. And the degree of co-operation of the public that can be secured diminishes, proportionately, the necessity for the use of physical force and compulsion in achieving police objectives.

The Queensland Police seek and preserve public favour, not by catering to public opinion, but by constantly demonstrating absolutely impartial service to the law, in complete independence of policy, and without regard to the justice or injustice of the substance of individual laws; by ready offering of individual service and friendship to all members of the society without regard to their race or social standing; by ready exercise of courtesy and friendly good humour; and by ready offering of individual sacrifice in protecting and preserving life.

The Queensland Police should use physical force to the extent necessary to secure observance of the law or to restore order only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient to achieve police objectives; and police should use only the minimum degree of physical force which is necessary on any particular occasion for achieving a police objective.

The Queensland Police at all times should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and that the public are the police; the police are the only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interest of the community welfare.

The Queensland Police should always direct their actions toward their functions and never appear to usurp the powers of the judiciary by avenging individuals or the state, or authoritatively judging guilt or punishing the guilty.

The test of Queensland Police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with them.

If you like the sound of the above, then you are in furious agreement with Sir Robert Peel, whose Metropolitan Police Force in 1829 had these principles as a philosophical guide. Guilty by its absence is the notion of party politics directing police actions.


From Griffith Review Edition 57: Perils of Populism © Copyright Griffith University & the author.

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