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Simon Overland talks to Lateline.

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Lateline Simon Overland talks to Lateline


Simon Overland talks to Lateline

Broadcast: 03/12/2008


LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: I spoke with Victoria's deputy police commissioner Simon Overland from Melbourne.

Simon Overland, thanks for your time.


LEIGH SALES: You're already on the record as saying that you think this investigation has identified one corrupt officer. Are there more?

SIMON OVERLAND: Well, that's part of what the investigation is about: trying to work out exactly how these documents have found their way into the hands of criminals. We've been investigating this since the middle of this year. We are making progress. But investigations of this nature are complex and difficult and we've still got a way to go.

LEIGH SALES: Is it likely that more than one police officer is involved?

SIMON OVERLAND: It's a possibility. It's a possibility - it's one. There may be more than one. I don't think it's large number, but, as I say, that's part of the investigation and we need to continue with that work, which we will do, moving forward from here with the Office of Police Integrity and, if necessary, with other law enforcement agencies to try and work out exactly how this information got out.

LEIGH SALES: If you look at some of the cases that have involved leaks or tip-offs from the Victoria Police, they seem to go to the one drug syndicate and they apparently go back to possibly 1993 - 15 years or so. Doesn't that indicate that the problem is likely bigger than one police officer and that it's long-standing and systemic?

SIMON OVERLAND: That's a possibility I guess we've always gotta keep an open mind about. I guess we've also gotta deal with what's in front of us at this point in time. At this point in time, we've had two surveillance profiles leaked, or unlawfully released, from the organisation, quite probably corruptly. We've been investigating that since the middle of this year and we need to get to the bottom of that and, until we've had the opportunity to do that, I don't want to speculate in terms of exactly where this fits in in the overall picture that you've just painted.

LEIGH SALES: Is there evidence that members of the Victoria Police have received pay-offs for this material?

SIMON OVERLAND: We don't have evidence of that, but that's obviously something that we'll look at. If this is a corrupt relationship or a corrupt arrangement and it is about payment or some other form of benefit that's been received, that's obviously significant and something that we'll be looking for in the investigation.

LEIGH SALES: And how close are you to concluding this investigation?

SIMON OVERLAND: Look, that's really hard to say. We've obviously made good progress. The fact that it's become public today is part of that process. We now go into a new phase where we conduct the investigation more overtly. But, it's a bit how long is a piece of string? It depends what we find from here. We could get the break we're looking for tomorrow and wrap it up within a couple of weeks, or it may be that we've got a few more months of hard slog in front of us. It's really difficult to say.

LEIGH SALES: Have cases been compromised by this?

SIMON OVERLAND: Look, again, that's difficult to say. I'm not trying to walk away from the seriousness of this. That is a real possibility. I have to concede that. The point I've made throughout the day is we don't have evidence, hard evidence that that is the case. The other point I'd make is that some of the people who've received this information have since been arrested. So, that would indicate that if there has been some compromise, then to an extent we've been able to overcome that and those people have been

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arrested and charged before the courts.

LEIGH SALES: Lateline has been told that people at the centre of the drug investigation changed their behaviour in all likelihood as a result of this leak. Now you say you haven't uncovered hard evidence of that, but is that entirely possible?

SIMON OVERLAND: Well, as I said, I have to concede that that is a possibility. I can't sit here and say it's not a possibility. What I can say, though, is that no-one at an official level has raised that with me from the Australian Federal Police or from the Australian Crime Commission. We would be concerned if there is evidence of that, that be made known to us so that we can respond to that appropriately.

LEIGH SALES: Just because they haven't raised it with you, though, doesn't mean that it hasn't happened.

SIMON OVERLAND: No, I concede that. But I have today spoken to my counterpart in the Australian Federal Police. I had previously spoken to counterparts in the Australian Federal Police about this. Those matters haven't been raised directly with me and I anticipate they would be if there was evidence that supports the suggestion that the investigation was compromised.

LEIGH SALES: Agencies such as the Federal Police and the Australian Crime Commission do rely on Victoria Police to do a lot of their surveillance work in Victoria. They must be furious. Have they expressed that to you?

SIMON OVERLAND: Well, I'd make the point, we're pretty cranky too. This is obviously not a good situation for us to be in. I'd make the point that I think the vast majority of our staff at the state surveillance unit are personally devastated by this. They are a very, very good squad. They've done an enormous amount of good work. They've been involved in a lot of very high profile and significant investigations that have come to successful conclusions. And I think it's important not to lose sight of that. Clearly, this is a very bad situation. Clearly it has the potential to impact on relationships and so we need to recognise that and now work hard. If we've lost the confidence of our, you know, of our colleagues, we need to work hard to regain that.

LEIGH SALES: How can other agencies or even arms within your own force trust your surveillance unit on current or future operations given this?

SIMON OVERLAND: Well, again, we're very conscious of that. Part of what we've done today by going public is to now ask a senior officer within our organisation to move in and review the unit and to make recommendations to us as to what we need to deal with the information security issues in that unit. We've asked him to do that very quickly and we'll act on those recommendations very quickly to tighten up security or information management within the unit that obviously needs to happen. I guess I'd come back to the point I just made as well: this unit has been involved in lots of high profile investigations. They've been at the heart of the work we've done in relation to the Piranha taskforce. Those investigations have been successfully completed. There's lots to suggest that this is a very professional body. They are able to keep confidence, they are able to do their job. That said, though, obviously there's a problem here that we need to get to the bottom of and fix.

LEIGH SALES: Isn't it likely that this leak could even affect unrelated cases because potential informants or potential witnesses may be turned off cooperating for fear that their details may be leaked to people involved in the cases who could harm them?

SIMON OVERLAND: Well, I guess, again, I'd have to concede that's a possibility. We don't have evidence of that, but we'd have to concede that's a possibility. It's why we need to identify what we need to do in the state surveillance unit to fix this issue. We do need to reassure the public, the community, the government - a range of stakeholders - that we are on top of this problem and that they can continue to have confidence in us.

LEIGH SALES: The Herald Sun newspaper today revealed that 168 Victoria Police have criminal convictions on a range of serious offences from assaults to trafficking and possession of drugs, to theft and to perverting the course of justice. Are those offences that were committed prior to these people being in the police force or while they were police officers?

SIMON OVERLAND: Some of them are offences that were committed prior to the people joining the police force, and so we knew about them at the time they joined. Many of them aren't though; they're offences that have been committed whilst they're serving police officers.

LEIGH SALES: So it's the case that you could be convicted of trafficking drugs while a serving member of the Victoria police force and still retain your job?

SIMON OVERLAND: Look, it depends - it's case by case, it really depends on each individual circumstance.

LEIGH SALES: But that scenario is a possibility?

SIMON OVERLAND: It is a possibility. I'd have to say it's very unlikely. It would be very unlikely, but it is a possibility.

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LEIGH SALES: How can it even be a possibility?

SIMON OVERLAND: Well, this is one of the issues that we've actually raised with government and there is currently legislation before the Victorian Parliament to address this very issue. We have had enormous difficulties removing corrupt and non-performing police officers from the organisation because of the legislation that we're working under. We've asked for that legislation to be reformed. It's currently before the Parliament. But to be honest, we're not confident - my latest advice is that we're not confident that it will necessarily pass because it is being opposed by the Police Association and at the moment, the Opposition is also not supporting it.

LEIGH SALES: From everything you've said tonight, when we have convicted offenders working in the police force, we have leaked to suspected criminals under surveillance; we also have a series of corruption scandals affecting Victoria Police going back to 2001. How can the public have any faith in the Victoria Police?

SIMON OVERLAND: Well, we've been open and accountable about all of this. At the first available opportunity in each and every instance we've come forward and we've told the public as much as we can about each and every one of these instances and we will continue to do that. We are looking for corruption and when we find it, we're dealing with it. But I think in terms of having confidence, the public should look at the other results that we've been able to achieve over that time. The success that we've had through the Piranha taskforce, the success that we've had through Operation Pendennis, which was the investigation in to the terrorism cell operating here in Melbourne and more broadly across Australia, the fact that we've been able to reduce the crime rate some 25 per cent over the last eight years, the impact that we've had on road toll. You know, I don't think we should lose sight of the very significant successes that we've also had over that period of time.

LEIGH SALES: Victoria Police deputy commissioner Simon Overland, thanks for joining Lateline.

SIMON OVERLAND: Thanks very much, Leigh.

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