Commentary by Gerry Georgatos
Whistleblowers do what they do despite the risk of repercussions. They risk significant impacts and imposts upon their lives which for many have led to ostracisation, unemployment, family breakdown and other dire circumstances. Police whistleblowers argue that in their case the risks are greater than for those in other professions. By raising various allegations they invariably cast a dark pall of aspersions upon the police force, directly and indirectly. They argue that blowing the whistle usually comes with the personal cost of the end of their careers in the police and with damaging portrayals of themselves as mentally aberrant promoted. In the event if they are seen as “snitches” and “dogs” who “lagged,” some of them argue that they live in fear of the police sub cultures that often threaten them and which are allegedly left unchecked by the rest of the police.
Former NSW Detective Senior Constable Deborah Locke, author of Watching the Detectives, blew the whistle on alleged corruption within the ranks of the NSW Police Force during the 1990s. By going public with her allegations of widespread corruption she factored into the bringing about of the Wood Royal Commission which arguably led to various reforms.
Ms Locke is a member of Whistleblowers Australia and has served as a representative on the NSW Police Internal Witness Advisory Council.
“As we continue to hear reports in the media about crooked detectives in police forces throughout the country, both State and Federally, we need to support the honest cops in their efforts to weed out the corrupt ones,” said Ms Locke.
Whistleblowers Australia states, “Even today after the success of the Fitzgerald and Wood Royal Commissions, police whistleblowers continue to be harassed, victimised and branded by the guilty as mentally defective. Honest cops still fall victim to payback allegations that are nearly always more strenuously investigated by (Internal Affairs) branches than the original complaint.”
The NSW police officer, Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox, whose allegations of child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church contributed to the launching of the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse, last year said he had been harassed and smeared within the police force because he was effectively seen to be criticising police investigations.
After he appeared on the ABC’s Lateline to raise allegations that the Catholic Church had covered up evidence of child sexual abuses he said he was contacted by a senior police officer telling him to stop speaking to the media. He had alleged that internal police elements had hindered the police investigations into the child sexual abuses.
His doctor was also contacted by the senior police officer. Detective Fox said to Radio National, “I actually went to my GP… only to discover that she had also received a phone call from the police department – a senior ranking officer – who actually tried to coerce her into even turning up at one of my doctor’s appointments to direct me to stop talking to the media.”
“She (the doctor) actually said that she was appalled by that… (The doctor) felt she was then being coerced into saying that I was mentally unstable.”
On Radio National Detective Fox was asked if he thought a smear campaign was occurring. “Oh yeah, but as I said, I knew that would occur.”
At the time a NSW police spokesperson said, “We often confer with doctors to ensure the right support is placed around officers who are on long-term sick leave.”
Many hailed Detective Fox a hero for speaking about child sexual abuse.
But his career ended.
“I knew when I spoke out that it was a one-way door, and there is no going back,” he said on Radio National.
He said that an element within the police force does not allow police officers to publicly criticise how police investigations are carried out.
Despite being a hero to many, Detective Fox said that during 2012 he and his family received “threatening letters on police letterheads.” He said this led to his wife suffering a nervous breakdown.
Senator Nick Xenophon said, “I think it is very important Peter Fox is not penalised in any way as a result of his courage and integrity in speaking out the way he did, because I think his statements were really a tipping point making this Royal Commission happen.”
In November 2012, Detective Fox responded to ABC Lateline’s Emma Alberici’s questioning in regards to how his outspokenness has been received in the police force, with the following comment “Mixed.”
“I think as most people would expect. I have been inundated with fantastic calls from ex-police and current colleagues that are thrilled to bits with this happening. I’ve had calls from some police that I don’t know, wanting to share their frustrations and stories with me.”
“Conversely, there’s also been the uglier side of it where – I don’t want to go into it too deeply, but this is the end of my policing career. I realised that from the moment that I decided to speak out last week. As much as it’s denied, the culture within the police force would never allow someone like me to move back into it.”
Journalist Emma Alberici said, “I have to say that I’ve heard from a policeman I spoke to myself over the weekend that among those in the police you’re considered ‘mentally unstable’.”
Detective Fox said, “Yes, a couple of people have rung me up. I’m trying to hold myself still with all that going on, but I am aware of a fair bit of mischief going on behind the scenes. And that was expected, Emma. Like, I’m a big boy. I knew that was coming. That’s what happens when you speak out of line.”
Earlier this year, Detective Fox questioned the adequacy of whistleblower laws after being told his public allegations of interference with police investigations, which contributed to two inquiries into child sexual abuse being launched, did not qualify him for protection.
Detective Fox said NSW Police representatives said to him that his raising of allegations into the public domain, that senior police removed him from investigating the child sex abuses, were not seen as public interest disclosure and therefore technically they could not afford him protection.
NSW parliamentarian David Shoebridge criticised the NSW Police for relying on legislative technicalities in deciding whether to afford whistleblower protections.
In February of last year journalists Jeremy Peirce and Greg Stolz of the Courier Mail reported that “a culture of fear among police whistleblowers has emerged as Queensland’s top cop vowed to hunt the source of an alleged police bashing video.”
They reported that Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson pledged a “full, thorough and exhaustive” investigation into the alleged bashing of a 21 year old chef Noa Begic in the bowels of the Surfers Paradise police station. Mr Begic had his hands cuffed behind his back when officers were seen kneeing and punching him.
“But Mr Atkinson has also flagged an inquiry into how The Courier Mail obtained the CCTV footage of Mr Begic’s bashing before breaking the story on Wednesday,” wrote Mr Pierce and Mr Stolz.
“Operation Tesco, a 2010 (Crimes Misconduct Commission) inquiry into Gold Coast police misconduct heard how a Burleigh Heads (Criminal Investigation Bureau) whistleblower was given a can of dog food as a ‘Secret Santa’ gift by a colleague. The present, handed out at an office Christmas party, was given after he was suspected of ‘dogging’ a workmate over a disciplinary matter,” reported Mr Peirce and Mr Stolz.
In 2009, the Courier Mail journalist Tuck Thompson reported that a veteran police officer who exposed “cronyism and corruption in the police force has been ordered off work though his doctor says he is fit for duty.”
Seargent Robbie Munn said the Police “has a culture that deters whistleblowers from reporting ‘dirty little secrets.’”
He believed that a heart operation he underwent and recovered from was an opportunity for the Police Service to weed him out.
Tuck Thompson reported, “Sgt Munn’s treatment has prompted serving officers to speak out, claiming he is being shunned because he is seen as ‘dangerous because he stands up for the truth.’”
“There is a culture within the service to avoid accountability for management practices. There are a lot of dirty little secrets,” said Sgt Munn.
The anti-corruption watchdog made a rare decision to overturn a police appointment and install Sgt Munn after he was overlooked for promotion reported Mr Thompson.
“A lot of your rank and file would come forward but they have seen what has happened to previous whistleblowers.”
“I honestly think they think Robbie is a dangerous fellow because he stands up for the truth and they want him out,” said Sgt Saez.
In 2002, Sgt Munn blew the whistle on alleged corruption with the promotion system of the Queensland Police Service. He tried to change all this.
In 2006 two Queensland police officers were found to have sexually assaulted female prisoners. The two officers were jailed over more than 20 charges while several other police officers resigned.
“One of my motivations is to improve the lot of other officers. They might think if I can stand up against a corrupt system, they can too and it will make it better for them,” said Sgt Munn in 2009.
Over the years, The Stringer‘s journalists have spoken to incumbent and ex-police officers who have said they are sickened by the blanket aspersions cast against the police because of rogue elements within the police force who abuse their vested authority while on the beat. They have said they are upset by officers being aggressive in otherwise benign situations. They said they are upset when situations get out of hand due to aggressive behaviours by some police. They said they are upset when the opportunity for de-escalation and a bringing about of the peace is missed or neglected. But what they also describe is that the reason rogue behaviour occurs is because of the cultures of silence. Effectively they cover up this behaviour, turn a blind eye, little is ever done about any of it. They say that there is some sort of unwritten code to cover each others backs. And they say this pervades into Internal Affairs and to the highest offices of the Police Services.
Hakea Prison is located in Perth, a maximum security prison – and of which 85 per cent of the prison population is on remand. A Hakea prison officer told The Stringer that many prisoners, especially Aboriginal prisoners, come from the metropolitan police cells to the prison “beaten up, black and blue. In terrible physical states.”
“Some of these cops are like gangsters.”
“I am not saying that (prison officers) are perfect but we’re not like the police. We get the prisoners the medical aid they need when they get here, have them treated and cleaned up.”
“We don’t report any of it.”
Recently, The Sunday Times journalist Ashley Mullaney reported about someone who claims to have been a Western Australian police officer. The alleged ex-police officer claimed that various of abuses of authority and including the worst forms of racism were the norm rather than rogue behaviour. The Stringer was contacted by the ex-police officer but we asked that he identifies himself to us. The Stringer will not publish his allegations unless we can authenticate that indeed he was employed as a police officer by the Western Australian police. He is living overseas and behind a nom de plum because he said he and his family have been threatened.
His allegations are serious and if there is any semblance of truth in them then a Royal Commission should be called into the Western Australian Police Services. The WA Police on the one hand have said they are investigating the claims but have been reported in The Sunday Times to have found little to be concerned about. They are also seeking to establish his identity. The Stringer would protect his identity but till such time as we know who he is and whether in fact he served as a police officer we cannot publish what he has communicated to us. We will not publish second hand information. Anything of this nature must be availed to our readers from a personal witness.
Natural justice and the truth are best served by various propriety including corroborating the authenticity of those prepared to blow the whistle.
Whistleblower legislation in Australia is still very weak.
Former NSW Police Commissioner Tony Lauer summed up the attitudes of some of the Police and some of the Government with the statement that, “Nobody in Australia much likes whistleblowers, particularly in an organisation like the Police or the Government.”
But that view is at odds with what could be the majority of the general public who support Wikileaks.
– An impartiality conflict of interest is declared by the writer of this article – Gerry Georgatos. He is a well known prison and police reform advocate, a proponent of restorative justice, with two Masters in studying racism and PhD research in Australian Custodial Systems and Australian Deaths in Custody. He advocates for demarcated Police Inspectorates and for enhanced Whistleblower legislation.