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Police bashed criminals as 'community service -

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Police bashed criminals as 'community service', watchdog finds

The World Today - Thursday, 30 October , 2008 12:38:00

ELEANOR HALL: In a report released today, Victoria's corruption watchdog says detectives
responsible for investigating armed robberies modelled themselves on violent characters in a
Quentin Tarantino film.

The Armed Offenders Squad was disbanded and reformed under a different name two years ago, when
three detectives were caught on tape assaulting a suspect in an interview room.

But one corruption expert says that might not be enough to solve the problem.

In Melbourne, Jane Cowan reports.

JANE COWAN: Earlier this year Victorians were shocked to see their police forces' supposed best and
brightest bashing a suspect they were supposed to be interviewing.

(Sound of yelling and swearing)

JANE COWAN: Caught on a camera secretly planted in the ceiling of the interview room, the suspect
is repeatedly slapped and kicked. Pinned to the ground and hit with a telephone when he asks to
call someone.

DETECTIVE: Want a phone call? Here it is. Here's your fucking phone call.

(Sound of yelling)

DETECTIVE: You piece of shit (inaudible) attitude do you?

JANE COWAN: Afterwards the detectives tell him not to "bleed everywhere".

DETECTIVE: Well you don't sit there and shove your fucking head (inaudible) at me. Sit down. I
didn't tell you to get up. You sit down like the dirty piece of shit you are.

JANE COWAN: Confronting as it is, the Victorian police watchdog says this type of incident wasn't
unusual within the squad responsible for investigating armed robberies, non-fatal shootings and gun
trafficking.

The Office of Police Integrity examined four decades of the squad's history and found a
disproportionate number of complaints against its detectives for using excessive force in arresting
suspects.

The OPI found an elitist subculture developed among the members of the Armed Offenders Squad. An
"us vs them" mentality led them to take the law into their own hands.

Members adopted an unofficial uniform - they became renowned for wearing black suits, white shirts,
dark sunglasses and a team-issue black tie, all in imitation of the costumes worn by a network of
violent criminals in the Quentin Tarantino film "Reservoir Dogs".

The so-called "men in black" regalia was also worn by the sole female member of the squad.

The OPI says this identification with the characters in the film was deliberate, to the extent that
a well-known image from the movie was used to advertise the squad's annual social function.

The squad also developed its own emblem, altering the official Victorian police badge on official
documents so that it was covered by two intersecting gold revolvers.

The OPI says all of this points to an unyielding clique or brand, separate from the broader
organisation of Victoria Police.

Members of the Armed Offenders Squad assume a "noble cause" doctrine where the ends justifies
pretty much any means, and bashing a crook is seen as, quote "community service".

GARY CROOKE: It is probably made more manifest in these squads because it is much easier for them
to claim the mantle of we are at the tough end and therefore we have got to be tough.

JANE COWAN: Gary Crooke QC helped set up the Office of Police Integrity and is a former chair of
the then National Crime Authority.

GARY CROOKE: All this business about the Rambo-style aggression and the uniforms and the cult that
they developed for a particular squad is nothing but quite dangerous because it impacts on this
whole duty to do things properly.

JANE COWAN: In Victoria, the police force says that it has attempted to address this problem by
switching to a taskforce model so the squad has been disbanded and now operates as a taskforce but
how likely is it that this sort of unhealthy culture is still operating among elite squads around
the country?

GARY CROOKE: Yes, I think there is nothing much in a name. Call it what you will, that is not going
to solve the problem.

You have got to look at the underlying causes and just this expectation that they are above the
law. That has got to be addressed at senior level and by supervision and by training and anyone
that can't bring him or herself to appreciate the responsibilities, just has to be put flying a
desk or even out of the police force.

JANE COWAN: When the three Victorian detectives were charged over the videotaped incident, the
Police Association criticised the OPI's investigation, encouraged industrial action in response to
the squad's disbanding and led a protest rally.

In its report, the OPI says the militancy of that action in the absence of any criticism of the
conduct shown on the video was unhelpful.

Gary Crooke QC agrees police unions across the country can sometimes be part of the problem.

GARY CROOKE: Very rarely do you see them supporting any person who might be an internal witness
that might report this sort of conduct.

Their support seems to go overwhelmingly to the people who are being investigated, even in the face
of the most clear and cogent evidence that they have done the wrong thing.

It is all to do with anger and robust aggression to say well what are you doing looking at us?

ELEANOR HALL: Gary Crooke QC is the former National Crime Authority chairman. He was speaking to
Jane Cowan.