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Queensland policing: Queenslanders deserve better

By Peter Pyke - posted Thursday, 7 July 2011

There’s a lot of debate in Queensland about assaults on cops and armed robberies.Statistics show that assaults on cops are increasing exponentially as are armed robs. The recent tragic murder of Detective Senior Constable Damian Leeding responding to an armed-robbery-in-progress call on the Gold Coast has placed these issues at the forefront for many law-abiding Queenslanders.

The Courier Mail (30 June 2011) suggests Queenslanders lack, or have lost, respect for police. In a somewhat weak suggestion it says that Queenslanders should ‘let the women and men in blue know just how much we appreciate their efforts in keeping us safe’. Is that all we’ve got? The Queensland Police Union (QPU) which represents sworn police below commissioned rank blames rampant drug and alcohol-related violence and wants more cops, more weapons and tougher laws as long as the latter won’t apply to cops. We’ll come back to that. The Queensland Police Commissioned Officers Union is just invisible.

Who’d want to be a copper? In Queensland, the same Courier Mail article reports that ‘more than 100 police a week successfully sue the state government for on-the-job injuries, both physical and psychological.’ Danger and violence do go with the territory though, and if people enter the Queensland police service believing otherwise they are deluded. As a young copper in the seventies, I was once bashed in the face with my own handcuffs and again beaten badly in the eighties while I was working alone. The sound of a rifle pointed at my face being cocked from point-blank range still echoes in my memory, and that was just one of the times I faced a disturbed person armed with a loaded firearm.


Civil libertarians always see things differently to cops and say aggressive cops escalate situations and cops themselves are part of the problem. Is that true? Who can forget the horrific video of the bashing of citizens and tourists in Queensland police custody on the Whitsunday Coast that were released last year? Earlier this year I personally earned the ire of local police by publicly exposing an incident where three male police Tasered a lone, seventeen-year-old girl within 45 seconds of their arrival at an incident. She was waving three knives and pleading with cops to shoot her, suggesting apart from being suicidal that she may have also been suffering a mental illness. The girl suffered head injuries when she fell to a hard floor and had to endure court proceedings, some might say, to protect the police from their actions. 

There is also the anger-fomenting conduct of some cops who insist on parking speed-camera vans on downhill sections of road where even Saint Francis would speed, to be sure, like the police in Toowoomba on 29 June 2011. Want respect? Be reasonable, not mean, sneaky and nasty. Times are tough, cost of living is hurting most Queenslanders and an unnecessary speeding fine could make a family on the breadline or some innocent little guys or their Mum go without. 

There has also been a lot of talk in Queensland about random drug tests for police after Queensland’s alleged police watchdog body, the Crime and Misconduct Commission (CMC) recommended it. Let’s talk about alcohol and drug testing. Let’s talk about the way cops, generally, love imposing the law on everyone else but not themselves.

On industrial sites all over Australia, workers have been routinely drug-tested for years. Even my local car mechanic is randomly tested. This week Queensland police learned drug testing for them might be on the cards and we got to listen to their union squeal. Druggie cops can relax though because the CMC might have talked about the Queensland police taking on a pro-active approach to ‘managing and dealing with substance abuse risks’ by adopting random drug-testing but acting-Police Minister Andrew Fraser actually seems to have fudged it by saying it was ‘probably inevitable’, whatever that means.

Police commissioner Bob Atkinson was also undecided about being decisive when he said, ‘It’s something we have to look more closely at now, and it may well be introduced.’ Queensland Police Union president Ian Leavers though, was predictably predictable when he said ‘random drug testing would eat into the force’s operational budget eroding the already stretched ability of police to protect the community’. As I said, same cracked record.

Leavers does however like ‘targeted testing’ instead of random testing. Is that so cops can tip off their mates when the ‘targeted testing’ is on? For many years in Queensland, P-platers, taxi-drivers, bus-drivers and truck-drivers have been required by law to have a zero blood-alcohol reading. On-duty cops, armed with lethal Glocks and Tasers and driving high-powered cop cars do not. They only need to keep their blood-alcohol below .05. Now where’s the fairness in that? How can anyone respect that?


Just once, Leavers, I would love to hear you say something about improving the standards of the police you represent. May I make a suggestion? That the QPU take an active role in advancing the professionalism of its members and try rooting out the one or two bad apples the QPU constantly says are the only ones in the 10,000 strong barrel who cause all of the problems. Now that would be novel. That community would greatly benefit from a police union leader who doesn’t pretend he thinks all cops are angels and who can see that making police behave better and more professionally would be a good thing for the Queensland Police Service, the community, and my state. Now that might earn some respect.

But do some of these factors explain why Queenslander’s have become more violent towards police? I’m not sure, but none of this police conduct excuses the increasing incidence rates of violence against police and other emergency services workers. The alarmingly commonplace frequency of attacks on Queensland ambulance officers and paramedics is probably the best measure of the unprecedented and true extent of this new violence. As a former police officer, I support the QPU in its view that violence against police is escalating. I say a rethink needs to be applied and I don’t pretend to have all the answers. 

While I agree with the QPU that it is realistic to blame some of the violence on drug and alcohol triggers, I think a deeper analysis will sheet the blame home to an increasing population of people who share a lack of social controls including an absence of discipline and a lack of empathy and respect for others. It’s time to start putting parents who put their children’s upbringing ahead of all else on a pedestal. Contrary to some opinions, most young Queenslanders are polite, well-mannered, humorous, articulate, informed, socially interested and good company; even when they’re having a night out.

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About the Author

Peter Pyke is a former ALP parliamentarian and police anti-corruption campaigner. He is CEO of the Republican Democrats.

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