The Queensland Police Service – when investigators fail to sufficiently investigate their own

On 23 January 2020, former Queensland Police Sergeant Daniel Baker was sentenced in relation to charges of misappropriation and misconduct, which occurred whilst he was Officer in Charge of remote Camooweal Police Station. 

The same day, the ABC reported that Baker misappropriated over $18,000.00 between 2015 and 2017, and that “an anonymous complaint was made to the Crime and Corruption Commission in October 2016, which sparked an internal police investigation” (source:  https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-01-23/rural-policeman-who-stole-18000-dollars-jailed/11894940).

The disappointing truth is that Baker’s stealing (amongst other things) was reported to an Acting Inspector from the Mount Isa District back in December 2014. Notwithstanding the allegations being brought to the attention of QPS management, it would appear that insufficient action was taken – action that may have prevented the offences from continuing. The informant/witness was not interviewed at that time or asked to provide a formal statement. Baker then went on to commit the offences for which he is now charged and incarcerated.  The original informant from 2014 was only interviewed in 2017 after the anonymous Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) complaint and after Baker was charged.

I can’t help but wonder if Baker’s offences committed between 2015 and 2017 could have been prevented if the original information was taken more seriously.  It may be the case that some inquiries or investigations were conducted, however it is difficult to accept that a thorough investigation was undertaken without the original informant being interviewed.  Did police inaction enable Baker to continue to commit the offences that police were informed about in 2014? 

The ABC also reported that “the court heard that Baker was suffering from gambling, alcohol, and depressive disorder when he committed the offences”. That too was brought to the attention of QPS Management long before Baker was charged. It was made known in 2014, and again in 2016. Despite that, he was permitted to remain unsupervised and in charge of a remote station where he would be expected to respond to calls for service 24/7, drive a police vehicle, and carry a firearm.  Baker is just one example of a matter where prompt and adequate intervention and investigation may well have prevented the conduct that followed.

I am regularly frustrated and disappointed by the consistent information I receive regarding internal complaints of a serious nature that are not adequately investigated by the Queensland Police Service. The frontline officers and unsworn staff have lost faith in the complaints system, and that is the reason that many feel there is no point reporting misconduct at all. It is not uncommon for internal complaints to be finalised as ‘unsubstantiated’, without a single witness or even the subject member being interviewed. This is something I see all too often.   I’m not referring to minor matters, vexatious complaints, or matters void of evidence.  I’m referring to serious allegations  where an abundance of evidence has been provided and a number of witnesses nominated. It appears almost impossible to have a complaint taken seriously when it involves the conduct of a member of management, or someone who for some reason seems to be a ‘protected species’.  

What is difficult to comprehend, is that this failure to adequately investigate, is actually occurring in an organisation whereby ‘investigating’ is one of its primary functions.  Our operational police are expected to conduct thorough investigations and exhaust all investigative avenues before deciding to take ‘no action’ or finalising a complaint due to insufficiency of evidence.  It seems that this does not apply when investigating internal matters.  I know of one case where an officer was not even able to ascertain precisely who finalised their complaint against a member of management.  Despite the QPS maintaining that they are accountable and transparent, the information was withheld when requested.

The QPS asks officer’s to apply the ‘SELF Test’ when making decisions.  The acronym ‘SELF’ stands for;

S – Would your decision withstand SCRUTINY from the community and the QPS?

E – Will it ENSURE compliance with QPS standards and policy?

L – Is your decision LAWFUL?

F – Is your decision FAIR?

There is absolutely no way that the current handling of internal complaints is ‘SELF’ compliant.  Not only are complaints routinely not given the attention they deserve, but some officers who make complaints are often subjected to acts of reprisal and victimisation. Others are themselves charged for failing to report misconduct ‘immediately’, while those who allegedly committed the misconduct walk away with a smack on the wrist (if anything at all). There is something seriously wrong with this scenario. Also concerning are the cases whereby officers are relentlessly targeted for trivial matters, in cases of blatant double standards and bullying.  There is often one rule for some, and another rule for others. There is no consistency, other than the consistent ability to sweep matters under the carpet when it looks like damaging the QPS brand or reflecting poorly upon a Commissioned Officer or other protected species.    I say expose it, deal with it, flush the toilet, and we can all move on.

Then there are the internal complaints investigated or being overseen by the subject member’s direct supervisor who could also potentially become a subject member should it be found that they ought to have prevented the alleged conduct.  I was a witness in a complaint made to the CCC against a member of the QPS Ethical Standards Command (ESC). The allegations were of a very serious nature and included reprisal, misconduct, and improper disclosure of information. The CCC sent the matter to Ethical Standards to investigate their own officer (I sometimes wonder exactly what it is that the CCC does!?). I emailed the Assistant Commissioner at Ethical Standards and expressed my concerns regarding the obvious conflict of interest, and I respectfully requested that the matter at least be detailed to an officer from a different section who did not know the subject member.  I did not receive any response from the Assistant Commissioner, and the matter was assigned to the subject member’s direct supervisor. 

Not surprisingly, the matter was unsubstantiated despite witnesses being nominated and evidence provided.  The subject officer was also rewarded with relieving at higher duties whilst under investigation.  This matter was reported by the Courier Mail in December 2019 (see: https://www.couriermail.com.au/news/queensland/crime-and-justice/gold-coast-cops-claim-victims-of-witch-hunt-after-complaining-about-female-colleague/news-story/7f4000808298fc928a7b5505852ba3bc )

I’ve been aware of a number of cases where legitimate and serious domestic violence allegations against serving police are also not acted upon.  This not only places the aggrieved person at risk, but it leaves the QPS wide open to legal action and certainly fails to meet community standards and expectations. Many say the current situation is worse that the pre-Fitzgerald era.  Some of the worst in the QPS are being promoted and are receiving awards. Then there was the case of Daniel Baker whose conduct was first reported to local QPS management in 2014, yet the conduct continued until a complaint was made to the CCC in October 2016. . 

The QPS Ethical Standards Command needs an enema. Whilst there are obviously many officers in the section who act with integrity and have the expected level of investigative skills, some are severely lacking. The investigative ability and conduct of some supposedly experienced ESC detectives has left me scratching my head, as have some of the reasons given for finalising complaints without action.  Most would struggle to meet the ‘pub test’ let alone the SELF test.  It seems that ESC employs a number of magicians who can make complaints ‘disappear’.   I’m of the firm belief that anyone who has a questionable history should not be permitted to perform duties at ESC. ESC officers ought to be 100% squeaky clean.

Those who are brave enough to report misconduct must be protected and supported.  The ones under investigation should not be rewarded with relieving and higher duties.  Complaints of a serious nature should be thoroughly investigated, and by someone other than the subject member’s direct supervisor. Transparent and comprehensive feedback ought to be provided if no action is to be taken.

I truly hope that the current Commissioner of Police does her best to give the complaints system a complete overhaul, and disposes of all the bad eggs.  Only then will the troops begin to have some faith in the organisation.   Commissioner Carroll is currently in a prime position to admit the extent of internal problems and address them, for she cannot be held accountable for the mess left by the former Police Commissioner.  She is not responsible for allowing bullying and misconduct to flourish prior to her appointment, but is indeed now in a position to bring about significant positive changes in order to repair the severely damaged organisation.