New South Wales police officers are increasingly acting as 'a law unto themselves' with an ever-increasing number of reports emerging of officers engaging in serious misconduct.
Bullies in blue uniforms
A recent inquiry by the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission (LECC) has found that two officers racially abused two Afghan women they stopped on suspicion of not wearing their seatbelts in Western Sydney earlier this year.
The LECC has released its final report into the incident, as well as the video footage taken from police body cameras worn by officers at the time.
The footage shows one officer telling the driver she is "the most stupidest (sic) person I've met as the driver of a motor vehicle". He then demands that the driver, as well as her passenger (her stepmother) produce identification, in circumstances where the officer has no power whatsoever to demand the passenger's id. When the officer is told the older woman recently arrived on a temporary visa, the officer threatens to put her in prison.
At times, the two women appear confused and after asking what's happening, the officer says:
"Don't argue with me love or you'll be going back in the paddy wagon as accessory to bloody murder."
Threats and intimidation
The LECC found the same officer later threatened the woman with unrelated charges and made offensive comments after the camera was switched off. The officer's partner revealed a number of additional details during the inquiry, including that this was the usual way the first officer conducted himself during traffic stops.
The driver alleged in her complaint that the officers accused her having drugs in the car and that if police had pulled the women over in Afghanistan under the same circumstances, they would have been shot from behind.
The LECC ultimately determined that the first officer had used "intimidating and abusive language" towards the women and deliberately "bullied and frightened them".
The watchdog further found that the officer's conduct was "partially motivated by, and exhibited racial prejudice".
The second officer was also found to have engaged in misconduct, with the Commission concluding he had "sought to intimidate" the driver by aggressively asking her religion and "making baseless threats" to both women about being taken into custody or immigration detention.
News reports have said officer one may be the controversial police officer 'Raptor 13' (his real name is Andrew Murphy) who was accused of inappropriately dealing with members of the public by harassing and bullying. This is partially based on the label 'Raptor' on one of the officers' uniforms, and by the first officer's voice.
However, the LECC has so far declined to name the officers.
Strike Force Raptor, a special policing unit that was established after a brawl at Sydney Airport between Comancheros and Hells Angels motorcycle club members and left one man dead, has been described as a 'military-style' policing unit due to the way its officers conduct themselves with what many people feel is unwarranted targeting and harassment, and over-the-top physical force.
There is also widespread concerns that such tactics are taking over from the traditional concept of 'community policing', which seeks to build trust and cooperation between the force and the public.
Instead of police seeing their role as one which assists and serves the wider community, there are increasing reports of officers using their position to bully and intimidate members of the public.
Indeed, it its report, the LECC noted the "ripple effect" that this kind of conduct could have on members of the Afghan-Australian community, stating that:
"The people who hear of this incident are likely to form a very adverse view of police officers, and as a result, be wary of or even aggressive towards those officers with whom they come in to contact."
Despite the seriousness of the conduct, the LECC has recommended that the Police Commissioner consider acting under section 173 of the Police Act 1990 (NSW)– which enables the reduction of an officer's rank, grade or seniority, the deferral of salary or another form of disciplinary action other than a fine or dismissal.
The Commission did not recommend an action under section 181D of the Act, which enables removal from the force due to lack of competence or integrity, poor performance or misconduct.
And it's important to note the LECC can only make recommendations – it does not have the power to discipline officers itself. This decision can only be made by the force, which many believe essentially amounts to police policing themselves.
It's a decision which many feel sends a message that officers are able t0 remain on active duty despite engaging in serious misconduct – a message that will do little to deter others.
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