Katarina in police uniform
Commissioner Katarina Carroll says she will stay on as leader of the Queensland Police Service despite the report’s findings.(AAP: Darren England)

A report into Queensland police responses to domestic violence has found a “failure of leadership” allowed cultural issues within the service to fester “unchecked” for years.

Key points:

  • Commission of inquiry heard evidence of racist and sexist behaviour among officers including senior officials.
  • Commissioner found cultural issues within the service “inhibit the policing of domestic and family violence”
  • Deputy police commissioner Steve Gollschewski appointed as a special coordinator to lead the recommended reforms

However, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said her government supported Police Commissioner Katarina Carroll.

“To bring about the reforms and the cultural change, [it] needs a strong woman and that strong woman is the Commissioner Katarina Carroll,” Ms Palaszczuk said.

“Cabinet has endorsed the commissioner today.”

Judge Deborah Richards led the Commission of Inquiry into Queensland Police Service (QPS) responses to domestic and family violence, which heard evidence of racist and sexist behaviour among officers including senior officials.

In her foreword, Justice Richards said the commission found “ample evidence that there were cultural issues within the Queensland Police Service which inhibit the policing of domestic and family violence”.

“There is evidence that there is a lack of understanding of the dynamics of, and power imbalance within, domestically violent relationships,” she said.

“There is evidence that there is significant under-resourcing which leads to reactive and at times short-lived reform and, in the frontline, confusion over expectations of performance.

“Despite the initial protestations … the commission has found clear evidence of a culture where attitudes of misogyny, sexism and racism are allowed to be expressed, and at times acted upon, largely unchecked,” she said in the report.

“Where complaints in relation to such treatment are brushed aside or dealt with in the most minor of ways and those who complain are the ones who are shunned and punished.

“It is hardly surprising that these attitudes are reflected then in the way that those police who hold them, respond to victim-survivors.

“It is a failure of the leadership of the organisation that this situation has been allowed to continue over many years unchecked.”

The report made several findings, including:

  • Sexism, misogyny and racism are a significant problem within the QPS, and that the service had not always dealt with such conduct in an appropriate manner
  • The QPS failed the people who suffered as a result of the conduct, failed to meet its human rights obligations to those people and failed its membership as a whole
  • Negative attitudes towards women were prevalent within the service and impacted the ability of the QPS to consistently respond well to domestic and family violence
  • Racism manifested in discriminatory behaviours directed towards First Nations employees, staff from other cultural backgrounds and members of the community
  • The QPS failed to consistently provide a culturally safe workplace for First Nations employees.
State Disaster Coordinator Steve Gollschewski.
Deputy Commissioner Steve Gollschewski has been tasked with leading Queensland police reforms.(ABC News: Chris Gillette)

Commissioner Carroll said the report was a “very, very difficult read” that presented many examples where “we should have done better for our community and for our own people”. 

“I acknowledge these issues and how they have effected the way we interact with the most vulnerable people in our community.

“For those who have experienced this, I am deeply sorry.”

Commissioner Carroll said she intended to stay on as leader and that she had spoken with the premier.

Mark Ryan speaks at a media conference in Brisbane
Professor Carrington called on police minister Mark Ryan to take responsibility for issues within the QPS. (ABC News: Lucas Hill)

University of Sunshine Coast adjunct professor Kerry Carrington, an expert in policing of domestic violence, told ABC Radio Brisbane it was “grossly unfair the first female commissioner be asked to take responsibility for several decades of racism and misogyny in the police force”.

“I think it’s also really unfair that the Police Minister [Mark Ryan], who really should take the responsibility, gets off scot-free,” she said.

Deputy Commissioner Steve Gollschewski has been appointed as a special coordinator to lead the recommended police reforms.

Commissioner Carroll said Julie McKay, chief diversity, inclusion and wellbeing officer with PriceWaterhouseCoopers will also help support the police service implement the reforms along with a special team.

Queensland Police Union president Ian Leavers said 98 per cent of officers were “doing the right thing each and every day” and there was no place in the service for racism, sexism and misogyny.

He said the report was a wake-up call for Commissioner Carroll, who needed to “pull up her socks” and “regain the trust of police” and focus on preventing and solving crime in the state.

‘A pervasive culture of fear and silence’

The findings come after a five-month inquiry heard evidence from dozens of witnesses and received more than 820 submissions, including 365 from current or former police officers.

It heard allegations of sexism, misogyny and racism by police officers, as well as cases of sexual harassment, rape and bullying in the ranks with those allegedly responsible facing little to no punishment.

The report found there was a view that the senior leadership in the service lacked “integrity” and there was a “pervasive culture of fear and silence in the organisation”.

“The commission also learned that there is a strong perception among the QPS membership that its senior leadership lacks integrity,” the report said, noting it had contributed to low morale.

“In addition … there is a pervasive culture of fear and silence in the organisation, for which the leadership is ultimately responsible, which prevents officers from speaking up about cultural issues and the changes that need to be made to improve QPS responses to domestic and family violence.”

Report makes 78 recommendations 

Judge Richard’s report, titled A Call for Change, contained a total of 78 recommendations to improve how police respond to domestic violence call outs and boost resources.

The report recommended the state government establish a police integrity unit as an independent and separate unit of the Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) to with deal police complaints and that it be set up within the next 18 months.

The report stated that the unit, at a minimum, be led by a senior executive officer who is a civilian, provide whistleblower protections, include identified positions for First Nation’s staff in the intake and include civilian investigators.

The recommendations also included that within six months the QPS engage an external expert to advise on the development and implementation of procedures designed to raise awareness of sexual harassment including how to identify and report it, and consequences for all QPS members.

It has also recommended the QPS develop a scheme within six months where any QPS member who makes a complaint about conduct arising from sexism, misogyny or racism is allocated a peer-support office with the concerned party’s consent to support the member through the complaints process.

‘Nation-leading reforms’

The state government has set aside $100 million to invest in a raft of “nation-leading reforms” and initiatives to improve police responses to domestic and family violence.

It includes the roll out of:

  • 300 domestic violence support workers in police stations across Queensland
  • 30 additional domestic violence liaison officers
  • 30 more cultural liaison officers
  • 10 additional specialist police prosecutors for Circuit Court
  • The appointment of a Special Coordinator for Police Reform

Ms Palaszczuk said the inquiry had “put a spotlight on some dark areas in the QPS” that had triggered “a case for change”. 

“This is an opportunity to do better and we will,” she said.

Ms Palaszczuk said there were “some deep-seated cultural issues” among some QPS members.

“Right throughout the report are examples from women about their treatment in relation to response to domestic and family violence, to the way in which they have been spoken to by members of the police service.

“Of course there is a huge response from the commissioners in relation to a case for change and that change needs to happen right throughout the police service.”

Source – https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-11-21/qld-police-domestic-violence-commission-inquiry-report-release/101677316