Royal Commission into the New South Wales Police Service
1.1 The Royal Commission into the New South Wales Police Service was established in May 1994, with broad terms of reference into the existence of corruption within the Service, the efficacy of its Internal Informants program and of its internal Affairs Branch. It delivered two interim reports recommending urgent change in the internal investigation structure, and in the Disciplinary/Dismissal procedures, followed by a Final Report released in May 1997.
1.2 Along the way, it established a significant multi disciplinary task force, carried out proactive current investigations involving extensive physical and electronic surveillance, and public hearings at which suspect officers were examined on oath both in relation to their policing activities, and financial means.
1.3 These examinations were conducted with the aid of sophisticated financial and intelligence analysis, and were based on the Commission's own inquiries and on information derived pursuant to arrangements made under law, or with the agreement of a large range of government and private agencies and organisations, and also as the result of the exercise of its statutory powers to compel the provision of information, to execute searches under warrant, and the like
1.4 What then were the results of the Commission?
2.1 The Commission very quickly found its way beyond the positive reassurances, given by Senior Command at the commencement of its public hearings, that the Service was free of entrenched or systemic corruption. It did so via the "roll over" of a very experienced detective. That officer had been exposed to corruption very early in his career, and found it replicated in every subsequent posting, particularly when working in drug law enforcement. He was deployed by the Commission to work under cover for approximately six months, and gathered evidence of the reception of bribe money from the vice operators and drug dealers who had been paying his group for years, and of the sharing of that money with other senior detectives.
2.2 Once his role was revealed, other detectives who had worked with him, or in similar areas, progressively roiled over and admitted their involvement in corruption and serious misconduct, despite having denied any wrongdoing when first called as witnesses. Some of those detectives agreed to act undercover before publicly admitting their guilt, and so the net expanded, first at Kings Cross, then through other squads and other regions. They also carried with them a number of criminals who similarly, after initial sworn denials of participation in corruption, confessed their involvement and supplied valuable information as to the networks, and the nature and extent of corruption involved, both of the conventional kind and that referred to as "process" or "noble cause" corruption.
2.3 The continuous supply of information, and the availability of formerly corrupt detectives prepared to work undercover, to wear listening devices, and to meet criminals and other corrupt police in controlled situations, produced a dramatic ripple effect and widening of the pool of corruption exposed. It also created an aura of uncertainty and a lowered resistance on the part of some, although not by any means all, of the corrupt police identified.
2.4 The forms of corruption occurring on a regular basis, admitted by police who rolled over and assisted the Commission, or who acknowledged their guilt when confronted with covertly recorded evidence, or with the confessions of their associates, or with damning analyses of their financial affairs, included the following:
2.5 The forms of corruption found were not surprising - what was surprising was the extent of their existence, and the areas into which they had penetrated. Perhaps the most disturbing disclosures related to the activities of an elite joint Commonwealth-State Task Force on Drug Trafficking. This was a Force comprised of detectives of supposedly high calibre, integrity and experience, hand chosen from the New South Wales Police Service and the Australian Federal Police, supported with the best available resources and tasked with targeting high level drug dealers. Although it achieved a high conviction rate, it quickly became a hotbed of corruption, and there were strong suggestions that participation in corrupt practices became a rite of passage.
2.6 A further disturbing feature was the suggestion from a number of officers that having been recruited into corrupt practices in their early years, they expected that on attaining Commissioned rank, they would by and large leave such practices behind. The understanding was that they should allow others to reap their share of corrupt rewards, that they should not be too anxious to detect or target them, and that they should only respond, (and then somewhat savagely) when someone was caught out in corrupt conduct that could not be covered up. It is the presence of this feature which makes the fight against corruption from within so difficult. It represents a double standard that creates an impossible position for young police, because of:
2.7 The strength of this culture was seen in the limited success of an amnesty offered to police for a closed period at the end of 1995. Save for offences of the most serious kind an indemnity from prosecution was offered to corrupt police in return for their resignation, and commitment to assist the Royal Commission, and other relevant law enforcement agencies. Although advantage was taken of this opportunity by some police, including some detectives who were able to further expand the knowledge of the Commission into areas of organised corruption, many stood back in the face of their inevitable exposure. They were quite unable to explain their reluctance to seize the olive branch offered, which could keep them out of gaol, other than to identify the instinctive institutional reaction to any form of internal inquiry, drummed into them over years of service.
2.8 It is this institutional response, and the traditional respect offered to a class of detective, (the "metro cop") seen as a hard officer, knowledgeable in the ways of the city, fraternising closely with organised crime figures, providing protection or favours for some (often the most powerful) and maintaining a degree of order through those associations but personally profiting through information supporting arrests and subsequent promotion for ostensibly meritorious (but in fact corrupt) service, or through bribes and other services, which has to be the focus of attack. The hope is that it can be replaced by a culture which values professionalism, recognises that turning a blind eye to corrupt practice is as bad as active involvement, rewards those who demonstrate integrity, and emphasises the need for commitment to the true role of policing.
3.1 Corruption does not emerge suddenly. By its nature it is spawned in stealth, and only grows in a climate in which it is comfortable. There is precedent of it being a cyclical phenomenon, both locally and overseas. It is capable of being arrested, but it is equally capable of regenerating, and sometimes in forms, and to an extent, that is even more malignant than before.
3.2 So it was with the New York City Police Department when in the 1970's the Knapp Commission discovered widespread corruption of the systemic or institutionalised kind, in which a blind eye was turned to the breach of a wide variety of laws at a local level, in return for payments shared on a formalised basis between patrol officers, detectives, supervisors and commanders. By 1994, the Mollen Commission of Inquiry found a new and more insidious form of corruption infecting parts of the city, particularly in high crime precincts with an active narcotics trade. Rather than police taking money to accommodate criminals by closing their eyes to illegal activities, they were now seen as acting as criminals themselves, especially in connection with the drug trade.
3.3 This was precisely what we found in New South Wales, despite several earlier inquiries and Royal Commissions that had looked into the Service.
Why does this occur? The reasons are several.
The Crime Control Justification
3.4 There had been long term tolerance in New South Wales of victimless crime in the form of SP betting, gaming, vice and unlicensed sales of liquor. The traditional justification for such tolerance, and for the willingness of police to accept payments for turning a blind eye, was that by allowing a chosen few to continue, such activities could be kept within acceptable limits. Further, it was assumed that they caused no great harm, in a city the size of Sydney, for which a reputation for a degree of raciness and character did no harm. This excuse conveniently overlooked the compromise of individual integrity, and the cynicism it breeds at all levels of the Police Service. Officers who see crime untouched, or who are thwarted from targeting certain areas, naturally assume the worst in their commanders, and become reluctant to report corruption. The message that goes out is simple and obvious protection can be secured, and it is dangerous to question it.
3.5 Another problem that emerged within the New York City Police Department was shared by the New South Wales Police Force the tendency to create dumping grounds for the misfits, the malcontents, and the incompetent or less disciplined officers, in high corruption areas, and then by some form of twisted logic to use them to "blood" trainees as quickly as possible into the hard realities of policing. Inevitably, police who believed that they have been dumped in such a location will develop a perverted pride in their unsavoury reputation, and then act it out. So it was in NSW. Many young police were tested out for their preparedness to succumb to temptation, and to support the culture of loyalty to their colleagues, in environments such as this.
Preservation of the Reputation of the Service3.6 Another important circumstance, similarly shared with the NYCPD, has been the institutionalised pressure to suppress, or contain, the disclosure of corruption in the belief that this is in the best interests of the Service so far as its reputation and morale are concerned. A poor external reputation, so it is believed, will worry the public, reduce it's co-operation and trust, and empower criminals. This kind of philosophy came to be expressed in a number of ways, each of which was inimical to corruption prevention. They included:
This kind of attitude is an inevitable recipe for collapse of command responsibility for the maintenance of integrity, and for reinforcement of the "them and us" culture that encourages a defensive mentality. It sends a very powerful message to the ranks not only that the rhetoric to which they are exposed in this respect is empty, but that the opposite is what is truly expected. It is an attitude that needs to be stood on its head, but also one that requires a degree of public education. The Service, the media, and politicians need to be convinced that the uncovering of corruption by the Service, is not necessarily evidence of bad management or integrity problems. Rather, it can be seen as evidence that the system is working, and that there is a brake being applied to problems that would otherwise fester and multiply before the inevitable scandal erupted.
The Police Culture and its Code of Silence
3.7 Woven in and around ail of these problems has been the culture that is so much the part of any Police Service. It is inevitable that it develop within any group that faces the dangers and difficulties of policing. It is a vocation in which its members come to socialise and depend on each other both on and off the job. It is one in which in times of crisis, heavy reliance needs to be placed on the loyalty and immediate response of fellow officers. Many of the work experiences cannot readily be shared with outsiders, and tension is often broken in ways that might not be seen in other circles to be politically correct.
3.8 It is the insidious pressure of this negative aspect of the culture that has most inhibited the attempts of the Service to combat corruption. Officer after officer told us about it, and of the fears they held if known to be a "give up". These extended to being:
3.9 Unfortunately this is an aspect of the culture that has been shared by the honest and corrupt alike, and it is one that has to be targeted as vigorously as any other aspect in the reform process, because:
The Nature of the job
3.10 It cannot be gainsaid that for some the nature of the job is corrupting. The powers Entrusted to police to carry arms use force and even take lives in hopefully rare circumstances, to inquire into deep and dark secrets, to eavesdrop on private conversations, and to deprive citizens of their liberty, are very substantial powers. Conversely with their significance, they are most often exercised by the younger and less experienced officers working at street level, than they are by commanders with the wisdom of age and experience. Moreover, they are exercisable in circumstances where the opportunities for temptation and corruption are often very high. If those opportunities are available, as they have been, in an environment where training in integrity and ethics is lacking, where first line supervision is poor, and where the risk of detection and successful prosecution or severance from the Service are low, then it is little wonder that many police have succumbed.
3.11 The circumstances that have allowed process corruption to develop are complex, and its study is complicated by the fact that often the truly corrupt rely upon the more altruistic reasons for its adoption, as an excuse or mask for their venality. In its various forms of perjury, planting of evidence, falsification of documents, forced confessions, violence and even theft of drugs or money, it tends to be explained by reference to:
3.12 While the superficial attraction of some of these arguments cannot be ignored, the reality is that as often as process corruption has been the result of "honourable" motives, it has also been engendered by black motives.
3.13 The problems that have emerged from this form of corruption, most of which have probably been unappreciated by those who have resorted to it, are manifold:
Failure of Supervision and Command Accountability
3.14 Absent real supervision, and accountability by commanders and supervisors for failure to identify and deal with corrupt practices, and action from Senior Command that matches rhetoric, the development of entrenched corruption is inevitable. Part of the problem in this regard is the lack of any real sense of responsibility by local supervisors and commanders who take the view that corruption control should be left to internal Affairs.
4.1 This was a critical question for the Commission, since there was an elaborate structure in place, designed to detect and punish corruption.
4.2 A number of factors contributing to the limited
success of internal investigations were identified, including:
4.3 Each of the ICAC and Ombudsman has undertaken valuable inquiries leading to significant reports on specific matters of concern, and on corruption prevention and education measures. The ability of these agencies to contribute significantly to any fight against corruption in the period preceding the Royal Commission was, however, limited by:
4.4 Such greater success that the Royal Commission enjoyed, can be attributed to a number of factors, including:
4.5 Additionally, it had the advantage of being able to conduct investigations and hearings on an inquisitorial basis, unconfined by the technical rules governing hearings based on the adversarial system, or by the criminal standard of proof.
5.1 A range of strategies has been developed which may be briefly mentioned. They include:
6.1 Among the benefits hoped for by these initiatives is the acceptance by all Police that they will lead to a better Service, in which each officer has a real responsibility and opportunity to be involved in management, and to behave according to proper standards. This it is believed will lead to greater job satisfaction and to the opening up of new career opportunities.
6.2 A message has gone out to police disenchanted with the notions of integrity, professionalism, work, and zero tolerance for corrupt colleagues and practices, that there is simply no place for them. What must be accepted is the fact that corruption and wilful ineptitude or lack of commitment are incompatible with the special powers and privileges that attach to policing. Those not capable of meeting the necessary standard cannot be hidden in a modern Service. They are a danger to the public and to other police, and they either lower the standards of others, or ferment disaffection.
6.6 It is not possible to predict the future. However, what has been universally recognised is the imperative for change, and the need to break the cycle of corruption, scandal, inquiry and reform, and return to corruption. That cycle has been shared by many Police Services, and New South Wales has not been an exception to it, having undergone scrutiny through several Commissions of Inquiry and investigations.
6.7 The difference in the present case has been the much broader scope of the present Royal Commission, and its adoption of a proactive and current investigative approach, that was very different from the earlier and more traditional Commissions of Inquiry which were entirely reactive, or historic, in their approach.
6.8 While time alone will tell, there is reason for cautious optimism, and hopefully an end to the form of entrenched or systemic corruption which came to be accepted in the past and which has now been exposed.