Policing issues (part two)

Terry Odgers continues his discussion on matters of concern regarding the police force and the many problems that stem from a lack of understanding of practical policing issues by the police hierarchy and their political masters in government.

Continued from Destiny issue five

Apart from being complicit in the government’s agenda to effectively ‘politicize’ the NSW Police Force, Peter Ryan also oversaw the disbanding of two of the most effective crime fighting tools that the NSW Police had, Special Branch and the Criminal Investigation Bureau (CIB).

While these Units may have come under heavy criticism by Justice James Wood during the NSW Royal Commission into police corruption, it was still recognized by him that units of this structure were necessary for the effective combating of organized crime, such as the Russian Mafia and the Chinese Triads.

Unfortunately, Special Branch has been accused of interfering with fringe political groups, which is not conducive to democracy and should not be allowed. However, the Special Branch’s role of combating organized crime must be maintained even if that responsibility is to be placed under a different police body.

Ryan, and succeeding Commissioners, failed to produce any effective alternative. Is it any wonder that this state now has a huge problem with organized crime?

The police now have to form special “Task Forces” whenever organized crime is seen to be getting out of control.

This method of policing is reactive rather than proactive, and therefore is ineffective, because the criminal is always one step ahead of the police. This is no way to fight organized crime and keep it off the streets. One only needs to look into how the NSW Government has limited, through some very illogical legislation, the power of police to decisively deal with anti-social and criminal elements within society, which if left unchecked, snowballs into problems which will eventually become uncontrollable.

The police force, in this state at least, has since the mid 1980s been effectively emasculated, whereby officers being confronted with unruly and riotous individuals or groups, now retreat to assess the situation that they find themselves in, before taking any action.

While police officers take an oath to protect the people of New South Wales, they are rarely permitted to place themselves in harm’s way by a police hierarchy more concerned with the consequences of litigation, should an officer be placed in a situation whereby that officer may be injured, than protecting the public.

In other words, the health and safety of the officer at the scene is paramount and the safety of the public has now become a poor second!

While there will always be those individual officers who will ignore their superiors’ orders and place themselves in harm’s way, the majority are conditioned to behave according to standing orders, which preclude any individual acts of bravery.

Police are now expected to tolerate the individual who takes it upon himself to antagonize that officer by insulting remarks, or threatening behaviour, and stand their ground without physical retaliation.

Over the years, we have seen two very dangerous incidents at Redfern (an inner Sydney suburb known for its disadvantaged Koori population) in which police were withheld by their superiors from acting, while people were being attacked and injured, and property damaged.

An incident at Macquarie Fields, near Campbelltown, saw police back down to residents who believed that one of their own had been killed by other police in a high speed pursuit. Molotov cocktails and other handy missiles were launched at attending police who basically stood by and let some infrastructure be damaged.

The shameful acquiescence of the police hierarchy, at the behest of their political masters, to the mob mentality which was ruling the street in those incidents, should be a stern lesson for police in how not to behave, but has instead become standard procedure and practice. Any police force is only as good as the determination of its political masters in seeing law and order maintained. These incidents should be a salutary lesson to the NSW public that it can not rely on the current state Labor government for protection under similar circumstances.

Remember the lack of police in dealing with the payback raids over three nights by Lebanese Muslims, on the populace of Maroubra and surrounding suburbs, following the ‘Cronulla Riot’ in December, 2005?

This was so disgraceful an act by a dithering state government that I believe nothing short of a Royal Commission should be held to investigate just who was responsible for this travesty.

Starting in the mid 1990s there was a gender push within the then NSW Police Service to employ more women. I question the need to actively recruit by sex. Who makes these decisions? And are decisions like this justified?

My sub-class at the Police Academy in 1997 was almost 50% female, this equated to 9 women in a sub class of 20 recruits. The Police Recruit Educational Program course of which I and my sub-class studied, was over a six month period. We were all then sworn in as Probationary Constables in August 1997, then being sent to the police stations that we had been allocated to throughout the state.

24 months later the number of females from my sub-class still in the job had halved. After five years there were just three left in the job of the original nine while there were still eight males, including myself, out of the original eleven still employed. Is this an indication that females overall are unsuitable as police officers?

I would argue that most females do not make effective police officers, but, having said that I would also add that I have worked with some very exceptional female officers. These are the ones who have remained in the ‘job’ for some years.

I believe that most women do not possess the physical strength, or have the stomach, for verbal or physical confrontations, which can often become violent when dealing with agitated individuals.

While at the Academy, I remember the look on one of the female aspirants, who stood 5’3” tall in her boots, when I said to her, that she could expect to be punched in the mouth within a few weeks of starting to work on the street as a police officer. She was horrified! Not only had she not thought of this eventuality, of which subject I had dared raise, she had not even considered the possibility that during her career she could be assaulted!

I lay the blame fairly and squarely at the feet of the Police Academy for this airy fairy attitude. This young lady, as well as every other female and male applicant, should have been warned at the very outset of their application to join the police, of the possibility of physical violence to their person. The Academy filled this young lady’s head so full of rubbish that she believed her mere presence in a police uniform, among violent males being threatened with arrest, would somehow calm them to the point where she would then lead them, sheep like, into the back of a waiting paddy wagon.

A large physical stature is no longer a requirement to join the Police Force. Indeed much has been made of various physical size differences between male and female officers.

I remember one young lady was so tiny that she could not carry a car-mounted 18 inch baton in her appointment belt because it kept tripping her up! The powers that be have much to answer for when allowing people of small stature to join the police. It does not take much imagination to consider the possibilities when a police officer is half the size of the person she/he is about to arrest.

Police officers have historically borne the brunt of the aggressive criminal, but since the early 1990s, there has been an escalation in the number of very serious assaults on police officers who have received employment-terminating injuries or worse, some even being killed. Only recently (2007) in Sydney, a male passerby had to assist in the arrest, by two female officers, of a violent male who was trying to wrest the pistol from the holster of one of the officers. The officers, although very brave, were no match for a much stronger male who had made up his mind that he was not going to be arrested. Heaven knows what the outcome would have been if not for the actions of the passerby.

Rarely are police, who have been physically assaulted by those they need to arrest, supported at Court. The sentences handed out to offenders who have intentionally injured an officer in the course of that officer’s duty are in most cases ridiculously inadequate. It appears that the Department of Public Prosecutions has far too much discretion in handling those cases where plea bargaining is considered as a means to an end and, which in truth, denies justice to those who have a citizen’s right to expect it.

In handing out sentences to those persons who attack society’s protectors some Magistrates and Judges do not deal adequately enough with the criminal before them. I believe it is time that mitigating circumstances for repeat offenders not be taken into account for sentence reduction. I give an example of just one of many hundreds of inadequate sentences handed down from the bench.

About ten years ago, a male and female police officer were called to a domestic location in a Newcastle suburb. The attendance was in response to a noisy neighbor whom I will refer to as the Person of Interest (POI). This person also had a history of violent behaviour and was a large heavyset man. I should also point out here that both officers were not large people, both being average size for their genders.

On arrival at the location, the female driver parked the vehicle, while the male officer informed police radio that they had arrived. As the male officer was getting out of the truck the POI had approached the vehicle from behind and was not noticed by the male officer. As the POI neared the unaware officer he king hit him with his closed fist on the back of the head, which caused the officer to fall onto the foot path, unconscious. The POI then approached the female officer, as she exited the truck. He proceeded to punch the officer about the head, stunning her. He then grabbed her around the throat with both hands and began to strangle her.

While this drama was being played out, the male officer regained consciousness. He quickly realized what had happened to him and became aware of what was now happening to his partner. To his credit, he called for back up on the radio before he grabbed a vehicle-mounted 18 inch spun aluminum baton, and began laying into the POI with the baton in an effort to force the POI to let go of his partner.

This was in the days before general duties police were issued with Oleoresin Spray, often referred to as capsicum spray. Prior to this very effective tool being made available, any incident such as that now being described had to be dealt with physically.

Following the call for assistance, many more police arrived on the scene, and it took the combined efforts of a number of officers to finally bring the POI under control.

The POI was at the time in a drug-affected state, which in most cases gives the user a very high pain threshold and increased physical strength. In other words, he was not feeling the pain from the strikes of the baton, and as a result, it took more officers to effectively overpower and arrest him.

At one point, prior to other officers arriving, the male officer was on the verge of drawing his service revolver and shooting the POI in an effort to save his partner! Both officers were hospitalized after this incident, the female officer in a serious condition. This woman never fully recovered from her ordeal. I remember seeing her from time to time, limping her way around town until she was finally discharged from the police as being medically unfit. The male officer fully recovered and is still currently employed as a cop.

Later the POI, who had now become the Defendant at Court, pleaded guilty to assaulting police. A plea bargain had been entered into earlier by the Defendant’s legal counsel for him to plead guilty to the lesser charge of assault police on proviso there would be no charge of attempted murder. So the attempt to murder the female officer, by strangling her, was not able to be mentioned at Court — and even though the Magistrate would have known about it, he could not legally act upon it.

The Defendant received a sentence of a two year good behaviour bond. This lowlife should have been locked up for six months at the very least! What sort of a message does this send to those people who take it upon themselves to assault society’s protectors? This leniency only emboldens those who wish to use assault as a means to evade arrest.

The NSW state government has been very busy over the past ten years making the policing of the public even more difficult for those officers on the front line.

Prior to 1998, if members of the public became troublesome (e.g. noisy drunken behaviour during early hours of the morning), police could move them on simply by stating their reason for doing so. Those who refused could then be arrested and taken back to the police cells to sleep off the alcohol or drugs. Usually, unless an altercation took place there would be no fines or charges.

This simple act of resolving a potential problem later became ridiculously cumbersome and unworkable due to the Civil Liberties crowd insisting that the detaining of intoxicated persons, and in most cases for their own protection, was against their civil rights!

A police officer now has to recite a litany of lawyer generated gobbledegook to the intoxicated person/s before legally permitted by his/her office to move them on. That is if they are nice and quiet while this ridiculous hindrance is read out to them. Hands up those of you who have had to deal with crowds of unruly drunks?

Police today are expected to escort drunks to their place of residence. This is not always possible, especially when police are attending to other more urgent jobs. It doesn’t take an Einstein to figure out that if an individual is so intoxicated he/she cannot make their own way home and, due to the affects of the intoxication, may fall asleep in some very dangerous locations, which then places those persons at risk of robbery, injury or even death. I personally have had to remove young males and in some cases females, from the roadway to a place of safety, usually to the kerb. Why they had not been run over before my arrival was just plain luck!

In the cities and large towns around the state there used to be ‘Proclaimed Places’ which were government funded houses where drunks or homeless people could be taken. Those institutions have not operated since the late 1990s due to lack of government funding.

So where do police, if they have the time, take the homeless drunk/drug user who is so intoxicated that he/she is a danger to themselves? What should police do with those drunks or drug users that turn violent? Should they be locked up for their own safety and that of the general public?

Station staffing levels has always been a problem area within the Police Force, particularly outside Sydney in the more regional areas. In the Hunter Valley area, where I reside, it has now, as I write this (2008) reached crisis level. Of the original 12 police stations in my LAC that used to be manned on at least one shift per day (8 hours) only four are partly operational on three or more shifts a week and three operating at 24/7 level. Those operating at 24/7 level are expected to also cover the unmanned stations area.

If someone living in those areas, where there is an unmanned police station, requires assistance from police then two officers have to travel from one of the 24/7 stations to that persons area. Some locations can be up to forty kilometers away on second rate country roads. Traveling these distances causes unnecessary delays for the person requiring assistance and for the attending police.

This situation should be seen for what it is, negligence, verging on criminality by the NSW Government! I say this because if any situation requiring police attendance is an emergency, and urgent duty is required of the police (lights and siren) then the distance involved at some of these locations is unnecessarily placing the officers, as well as the victim/s requiring assistance, at risk. This situation has always been an issue in this LAC and I would venture to say, also in other LACs.

This current state government is very good at media spin which it uses very successfully to allay an inquisitive public, and if the real value of the money this government wastes on spin doctors was known to the general public, there would be a call for an inquiry.

There is a current ‘Band Aid’ approach which is taken by this state government to shore up the lack of police officers in some areas. The placing of newly-sworn Probationary Constables into country positions in order to placate the local population’s fears should be seen for what it is, political expediency! While not wishing to denigrate the efforts of these newly-arrived officers, it must be appreciated that it takes at least five years for an officer to become fully proficient in what he/she does, and owing to the low morale of the force these days, while the new officers are learning their ‘trade’, it is often the case that their mentors whom they are learning from, resign.

It then becomes a ‘sink or swim’ situation in which the new officer finds themselves in. And while this is occurring and the general public is shortchanged with ineffective policing, the government is busily trumpeting the arrival of the latest ‘reinforcements’ sent to bolster the LAC.

What the general public fail to realize, is that these ‘rookies’ are not fully trained and have had ‘airy fairy’ ideals put into their heads by the ‘progressives’ at the Police Academy. They then have to learn how real policing is done. This also places that extra burden on the training officers who have to do their own job as well as train the ‘rookie’.

All areas in the state, including Sydney, are calling out for more experienced police. This has been ignored in the most blatant way by the Police Minister who keeps on insisting to the media that there are adequate police in NSW. He disregards the fact that, of the police personnel numbers trotted out to the media by the police hierarchy at any given time, a large number of those officers are off work for various reasons, ranging from illness and injury to stress related issues brought on by the police hierarchy themselves.

Off-work police are not replaced and history has shown that those officers remaining at work have to shoulder an already over-burdened workload. This is not fair on those officers who have to carry out this extra work load, and is not fair on the general public who are often placed in a queue when requiring police attention. It also affects the families of the officers, who have to put up with their loved one’s frustration caused by the negligence that the current police hierarchy and State Government have created.

The NSW Government treats the Police Department and the criminals they deal with as a business. I question the need to treat the police who fight crime on a daily basis as a business. How can you budget for crime? It is often the case that the police are under funded and once their allocation of money is exhausted no more is available until the next budget year.

The public do not realize this and the roll-on affect that this has on fighting crime. There is even a business mission statement for all police to abide by. All persons having to deal with the police are referred to as ‘customers’ including the criminals.

Each fiscal year the police force is given millions of dollars to distribute throughout the state to the various LACs. Each LAC is overseen by a government bureaucrat in the form of the Local Area Manager (LAM). These LAMs are responsible for keeping the LAC to within its monetary budget by trimming costs wherever practicable.

There have, over the years, been some ridiculous methods employed by these managers to cut costs, and usually at the expense of the police officers themselves. I give two examples:

1. Availability of uniforms and equipment. During 2003 in my LAC prior to the end of the fiscal year there was an explosion of crime which had not been budgeted for (how can any government budget for crime which is an elusive statistic?) and which stretched police resources and money over the limit. The LAM decided that due to the budget going over its limit some cost-cutting measures had to be implemented.

The LAM decided that ALL items of uniform would not be available to any officer until well into the new budget year. Prior to this absurd measure, by a government bean counter who had no idea of policing, every police officer had to request items of uniform as they wore out, including boots/shoes.

This LAM’s decision had the effect of causing nearly all police in the LAC to begin wearing patched-up uniforms. Items such as shirts and trousers, which may have been ripped in a violent arrest, had to be patched up by the officer at their own expense. I had two pair of trousers which were over 12 months old which my wife had to patch up on several occasions.

In the end most of us on duty looked like police from a Third World country. There was not one item which most of us were wearing which did not have a repair done to it.

2. Toilet and computer paper. A LAM in a nearby LAC decided that too much money was being wasted on paper in the LAC’s stations. His solution was to lock all toilet paper and computer paper in a cupboard to which he had the only key. His office hours were in normal business times 9am to 5pm. Any one wanting paper would have to requisition from him, that is fill out forms, during those hours. There was no access to the cupboard after hours and weekends.

The arresting and charging process requires that the whole procedure, from time of arrest to court day, has to be recorded. Reams of computer paper are used each day at a large police station. Likewise, there are large volumes of toilet paper used, not only by the officers but by their ‘customers’ as well. If there is no computer paper to use, the arresting officer cannot process a charge as copies have to go to the person being charged and to the court the offender has to attend. If there is no toilet paper to use… well, you can imagine the result.

Why I have mentioned these two incidents, and believe me there are many more similar tales out there that police could tell you about, is because this type of penny pinching by an employer’s agent has the effect of causing low morale amongst the officers it unintentionally victimizes.

My opinion is to be finalized in the next issue of Destiny.

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