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Rotten to the Core: Should Qld’s First Female Commissioner take the wrap for the culture of sexism, racism and misogyny in Qld Police?

Opinion Piece

In November last year, the Report of the Commission of Inquiry into Qld Police Service (QPS) found ‘ample evidence’ that cultural issues of racism, sexism and misogyny adversely impacted on how the QPS respond to DFV. The report made 78 Recommendations to address these systemic problems including: strengthening integrated responses to domestic family violence, improving the training of police, establishing Domestic and Family Violence Vulnerable Persons Units in each police district; a Victim’s Commissioner, a First Nations Justice Office and an Independent Police Integrity Unit. The Inquiry overseen by Judge Deborah Richards, acknowledged the hard work of Qld’s 17,000 strong police service, noting their angst about being under siege by the inquiry. Nevertheless, the report emphasised:

“the actions, and inactions, of police officers who do not respond well can have serious, long-lasting and, at times, fatal consequences. It is imperative that the QPS response improves so that it consistently meets the community’s expectations that victim-survivors will be protected when they seek assistance from the QPS.”

(COI Report 2002;62)

This finding is unsurprising. Earlier in 2022, Coroner Bentley concluded that Doreen Langham, murdered by her ex-partner, would still be alive today if Qld Police had just done their job. All but one of the 16 police who interacted with Doreen Langham in the two weeks prior to her murder, made a calamity of errors. (See my submission to the inquiry for details these errors.)

Over the last decade an avalanche of evidence from Coronial Inquests and Death Reviews, the Women’s Safety and Justice Taskforce 2021 and the Special Taskforce on Domestic and Family Violence (2015) had shone light on the chronic failures of Qld Police to adequately respond to the victims of domestic and sexual violence.

Everyone knew, including the Police Minister Mark Ryan, that the Qld Police Service had been failing the victims/survivors for decades. I told him face to face in a meeting with his minders in 2019. The most intransigent of those failings include: victim blaming; siding with the perpetrator;  treating victim’s complaints as trivial or a waste of police time; failing to act on reported breaches, mis-identifying the perpetrator and failing to refer victims to support services.

What distinguishes this whopper of a report (411 pages) from its predecessors is that it points the finger firmly at the QPS leadership for the extent of the current state of disarray. The Inquiry found QPS leadership had failed to:

Damning enough. But there’s more. Pointing to the disaffection among disillusioned police, the report is sceptical that real change could be delivered by the current QPS leadership responsible for a culture of fear and silence. (p, 64)

Speculation about the QPS leadership peaked during the week before the report was handed down, with calls for Katarina Carrol, appointed only 3 years ago as Qld’s first female Police Commissioner, to resign. She was initially reluctant to attend the inquiry, had to be prodded to attend with the threat of a subpoena, and over the two days of evidence refused to admit there was an extensive problem of sexism, racism or misogyny within the culture of the QPS. Preferring the rotten apple theory of police deviance, the Commissioner insisted that only a few behaved inappropriately to victims of sexual or domestic violence. It seems hundreds of current and former serving officers disagreed swamping the Commission of Inquiry with counter submissions afterwards impelling the inquiry to re-open and extend its reporting time-line. Fearing reprisal, 63% of those submissions by police were anonymous or confidential (p. 77).

Before the inquiry Commissioner Carroll spoke about her own experiences of sexism of the very kind, she simultaneously denied existed. While this was disappointing it doesn’t justify calling for her resignation. Former male police commissioners were never asked to resign when the damning Not Now Not Ever Report was released in 2015. Katarina Caroll should not be let off the hook just because she’s the first Qld female police commissioner. But why should she take the wrap for the behaviour of male police, who have been protected by a culture of brotherhood for decades?

I completely understand the deep disillusionment with the current leadership of the QPS and share many of the same concerns reported in the Guardian about the government’s lack lustre response, of giving the QPS an additional $100 million.

I didn’t jump on the bandwagon to call for the resignation of Qld’s first female police commissioner just because I’m a feminist.  I just can’t rationalise why the first female police commissioner in Qld should take the responsibility for decades of racism, sexism and misogyny driven by the masculinist culture of policing. What about the role of everyday front-line police who participate in this culture seemingly with impunity? What about the role of former police commissioners and Ministers? In the aftermath of the Fitzgerald Inquiry into Police Corruption in Qld, four Ministers were prosecuted, and former Premier Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen faced charges of perjury to that inquiry (although famously not convicted by a hung jury).  In contrast, the current Minister Mark Ryan, in my view, has walked away ‘scott free’.

Scalping is a familiar trope in politics. The tactic is designed to quell public criticism and deflect the limelight in the hope the problem will magically disappear. The scalping of Christine Holgate by former PM Scott Morrison comes to mind. The Inquiry’s 412 page report, manifestly shows that the QPS culture is rotten at the core, and anyone within the police who speaks out risks their career, standing and promotion prospects. Scalping Qld’s first female Police Commissioner would have done nothing to address these structural issues. It would however have delivered a trophy to the rusted on patriarchs within the QPS. Now what a tragic irony would that have been.

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