Sunday, October 18, 2009

Entrenched corruption in the Victoria police

A CABAL of experienced Victoria police see themselves as "guardians" of a counter-culture that promotes self-interest ahead of ethical service and encourages rule-breaking among younger officers as a necessary part of the job.

Victoria's police watchdog, the Office of Police Integrity, yesterday handed down its annual report, exposing the practice of some officers "green-lighting" unethical conduct. It also raised the alarm over the leaking of sensitive information from corrupt police to criminals.

The OPI report was one of three reports tabled in parliament that raised questions about police systems and performance during the 2008-09 financial year. They included Victoria Police's own annual report, which showed a 9 per cent rise in the number of homicides and a 7 per cent rise in the number of assaults.

OPI director Michael Strong said his organisation had provided information to Victoria Police about individual officers identified as leaders of the counter-culture. "Like the police involved in criminal associations, they cling to the myth that breaking the rules goes with the job," he said in the damning report. "Most of them appear to have little or no understanding of the ethics in policing and, despite working in operational policing areas, little knowledge of police policies and procedures. They provide negative role models for younger, less-experienced police and, in some cases, actively encourage more junior members to cut corners or break rules."

The reporting period covers the final months of Christine Nixon's term as chief commissioner and the start of Simon Overland's tenure.

Victoria Police Assistant Commissioner Luke Cornelius vowed to use "every resource available" to rid the force of corrupt officers.


Thuggish attitudes and behaviour among the Queensland police start at the top

If there's one thing police officers are good at, aside from crime fighting, it's putting on a tough exterior. With a job description that includes dealing with hardened criminals, drunks and nuisances, there's an understandable emphasis on remaining authoritative, tough and unbreakable. It's one of the reasons that many cops don't associate much with people who don't wear the uniform. "No one else can really understand what it's like, what you go through," one experienced officer, who asked not to be named, said.

This collective mentality and feeling of camaraderie is generally a good thing - most officers will tell you the best therapy they get comes from chatting to their workmates. So when you find yourself on the outer, in conflict with the upper echelons of the police service, it can be hard to cope. "When the police department turns on you like that it's sort of like being rejected by a parent," one officer said. "You get institutionalised to that extent and when the institution turns against you it really is like your mother or father has abandoned you."

Which may help explain what was going through Senior Sergeant Mick Isles' head when he disappeared on September 23. The highly respected officer in charge of Ayr police station, in north Queensland, had been off work for 13 months on stress leave as first the Crime and Misconduct Commission (CMC) and then police ethical standards command investigated allegations of wrongdoing. He returned to work on September 21, fully exonerated but still feeling humiliated by the lengthy investigation that was well known around town and the police service.

"We were all stressed, but then we were never the ones who were publicly humiliated, so we cannot understand what was going through his mind," his son Steven said. "This destroyed him."

Exactly what happened to Sen Sgt Isles is unknown. An extensive search south of Ayr located his vehicle but no sign of the 58-year-old. Theories about his fate are plentiful. Many believe he committed suicide, while some have raised the prospect of foul play. Most who knew him, however, believe he is still alive and in hiding somewhere.

In his father's absence Steven Isles has begun a crusade of sorts against what he calls a culture of victimisation within the Queensland Police Service (QPS) and the CMC. Steven Isles has been inundated with support from dozens of serving and former officers from Cairns to South-East Queensland. Many agreed to be interviewed for the purposes of this article, though declined to be named for fear of recrimination. All were scathing in their criticisms of the treatment of Sen Sgt Isles, beginning with his very public arrest at a charity event last August.

"If it was me running (the investigation) I would have phoned him and said: `Mick, we've got a problem, meet us at the station'," one senior officer said. "It's not like he's not going to turn up, they know where to find him, it's just not reasonable."

Others spoke out against the delay in finalising the investigation, but say the case is not uncommon. "They are notoriously slow, they have no consideration for what it puts the copper and their family through," one officer said. "The CMC can drag it on for as long as they like, it's absurd."

However, the CMC and Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson have claimed the investigation would have been completed much earlier had Sen Sgt Isles agreed to speak to investigators. Queensland Police Union president Ian Leavers said lawyers had advised Sen Sgt Isles to speak to the CMC. "When our members are under investigation we get the best lawyers in Queensland and members need to follow their advice," he said. "I believe if that advice was followed, the conclusion would have been a lot quicker."

Steven Isles says his father was willing to speak with the CMC but wanted correspondence with the anti-corruption watchdog in writing first.

Other officers raised concerns of bullying within the police service. One station boss, who says he fell out of favour with upper management over disputes about funding and officer safety, says he was repeatedly subject to intimidation tactics. He said one inspector would make unannounced visits to his station, some two hours away from the regional headquarters, simply to inspect his haircut. "It was so blatantly obvious that they didn't like you and they came after you," he said. "If they get in their mind that you are questioning them they will chip away at you until it drives you over the edge and that's obviously what's happened to Mick."

For his part, Steven Isles said his father had been warned six weeks before the investigation was launched that a commissioned officer was "gunning for his head". However, those who worked with him say they can't imagine how Sen Sgt Isles would have got himself on the wrong side of upper management. "He wasn't one to ruffle feathers, I can't see him annoying anybody," Steven Isles said.

Mr Atkinson this week denied there was a culture of intimidation within the QPS. "I reject that, I really do," he said. "We're not perfect as an organisation ... but I think the last two decades have seen an incredible change in the department, and I would hope the next 10 years sees further change."

Whatever the case, the many questions surrounding Sen Sgt Isles' disappearance will now be investigated by the state coroner. In the meantime, Steven Isles is going to make sure his father's case won't be forgotten. "We are here to fight this culture, we want to make sure that no employee is treated like this again."


Kevin Rudd criticized for spanking his chldren

CHILD experts are sending Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to the naughty corner over his admission he whacked his children when they were young. Leading psychologists and child advocates say Mr Rudd sent the wrong message to Australian parents when he said that it was okay to give children a smack.

Weighing in to the debate, Mr Rudd said: "And the rule that's been applied in our family ever since they were tots is that if they're doing something dangerous they'll get a, you know, whack across the knuckles." "The key thing is a gentle tap on the wrists which is usually, if you know anything about two and three-year-olds, the cause of the quivering bottom lip and the general collapse into tears."

His comments come after the smacking debate was ignited last week when Melbourne mother Claire Davidson was dobbed in to police for disciplining her nine-year-old daughter with a wooden spoon.

The Association of Children's Welfare Agencies chief executive Andrew McCallum told The Sunday Mail hitting children was never acceptable and Mr Rudd's comments did not set a good example. "In this day and age we know any form of violence against children is unacceptable and unproductive," he said.

Leading child psychologist John Irvine said he was yet to meet a parent who got positive results from smacking a child. "The Prime Minister is trying to show he is human but he is also saying to parents who have smacked that they are not nasty people," he said. "But for the ones who do tend to hit, it is a little bit of a licence for them and it wouldn't do those who are hitting their kids any good."


Aussie Mac: Canberra buys mortgage-backed paper to 'promote' competition

Derisive comment below from the Wall St. Journal

America's mortgage meltdown has given a bad name to government intervention in housing finance, but not Down Under. Australia's Treasurer Wayne Swan announced with no apparent irony this week that Canberra will expand a fledgling program to buy mortgage-backed securities in the name of promoting "competition." Call it an Aussie Mac in the making.

Mr. Swan says government investment in residential mortgage-backed securities, or RMBS, is essential because small banks and nonbank lenders that relied on capital markets to fund themselves couldn't do so in the wake of the financial crisis, and bigger banks ate their business. Last September he ordered Australia's debt management agency to buy $4 billion Australian dollars ($3.7 billion in today's dollars) of "AAA-rated" RMBS. At the time, he called it a "temporary initiative" to promote "strong and effective competition in Australia's mortgage markets." Canberra soon added another A$4 billion to the pot, and guaranteed big banks' wholesale funding too.

But borrowers would have naturally migrated to the big four domestic banks anyway. Unlike their U.S. peers, they by and large didn't have big portfolios of subprime debt and boasted piles of deposits from which to back mortgage financing. Nonbank lenders had no deposit bases and had expanded rapidly in the era of ultra-cheap credit. In July 2008, while Fannie and Freddie were imploding, Australia's central bank observed that while risky borrowers had a harder time getting mortgages, high-quality borrowers had little problem. "The Reserve Bank does not see a case for government intervention in the mortgage market to address what is a cyclical issue due to the tighter conditions in financial markets, rather than a structural change," the bank added.

Canberra intervened anyway—and then proceeded to blow through almost the entire A$8 billion program in a single year. Sunday, Mr. Swan announced a "temporary extension" of the program, to the tune of another A$8 billion. This time, rather than generically support "smaller mortgage lenders," the Treasurer wants to back "prime residential mortgages used by small business owners to fund their business." The first slug of money helped exactly 13 institutions. Time for Canberra to pick more winners.

This is pure politics, given that the government's securities purchases are far too small to bring the RMBS market back to its former glory. Every deal done so far has relied on the government backstop. Nor will these small deals be big enough to push down interest rates paid by borrowers; the central bank has far more influence there. But it sure makes for smart politics, given that the Labor Party wants to co-opt small- and medium-sized businesses into their camp, and away from the opposition Liberal Party.

Nowhere in this discussion is risk that this venture poses to the taxpayer. Fannie Mae also boasted about its exposure to "AAA-rated" securities. Most investors know the denouement of that story. Canberra may be taking smaller risks because the country's subprime market is smaller. But it's still a risk that wasn't there before, and needn't be there now.

Australian consumers enjoy a wide variety of mortgage products, and thanks to prudential regulation, little prospect of a U.S.-style debacle—yet. Washington meddled in private-market mortgages and brought the world the financial crisis. It would be a shame if Australia didn't learn from that experience.


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