Academic journal article The Australian Journal of Politics and History

New South Wales: July to December 2001. (Political Chronicles)

Academic journal article The Australian Journal of Politics and History

New South Wales: July to December 2001. (Political Chronicles)

Article excerpt

Cabramatta Policing

The issues of crime and policing dominated New South Wales politics in the final six months of 2001. The Legislative Council's General Purpose Standing Committee Number Three decided in June 2000 to conduct an inquiry into the adequacy and effectiveness of policing in Cabramatta in Sydney's South West. This was as a result of concerns expressed by members of the local community to the Committee's Chair, Independent MLC Helen Sham-Ho. According to the 1996 census, 27.2 per cent of Cabramatta residents were born in Vietnam. Almost three-quarters of the population spoke a language other than English. As well as being ethnically diverse, Cabramatta is an area of socio-economic disadvantage with high unemployment and low incomes. It is also a major centre for drug crime.

The inquiry generated much controversy. In February 2001, Tim Priest, who had been a detective at Cabramatta for over four years, gave evidence alleging that gangs were recruiting students at Cabramatta High School. He also claimed that senior police had ignored an intelligence report in November 1999 warning that major warfare between rival Asian drug gangs was about to break out in Cabramatta. Priest was attacked over his claims by Police Service management and the Government. Police Minister Paul Whelan criticised the Committee as serving no purpose and for having abused its powers and called for it to be wound up. The Legislative Council passed a motion censuring Whelan for his remarks (New South Wales Parliamentary Debates, 8 March 2001).

Priest's disclosures were followed by a confidential submission from four junior officers from Cabramatta Local Area Command (LAC). They also gave in camera evidence to the Committee on 23 April. The officers supported Priest's claims and said that there had been a complete breakdown in trust and communication with senior police. According to their submission, a key problem was the use by police management of a statistical tool, the Crimes Index, to assess performance. The Index measured five crimes: assault, car theft, break and enter, robbery and stealing. Drugs and drug related offences, the major problems at Cabramatta, were not included. As a result, the focus of policing shifted away from drugs to the extent that officers were told not to arrest for drug crime.

Subsequently, the four officers' evidence was leaked to the media. Each received an official directive demanding that they substantiate their claims. This was referred to the Council's Privilege and Ethics Committee for investigation. The Committee found that the memorandum had the effect of intimidating the officers concerned and that the senior police responsible were in contempt of parliament. However, the Committee recommended that no action be taken against them as the intimidation had been "unintentional" (Sydney Morning Herald, 14 November, 2001).

The report of the Cabramatta Policing Inquiry was released on 26 July. The Committee concluded that "a basic problem within the Cabramatta LAC in the years 1999 and 2000 was how their resources were managed. To a significant extent the problems were the result of an externally imposed performance measure, the Crimes Index." The Report added that

   the responsibility for the impact of the Crimes Index on Cabramatta 
   LAC lies directly with the most senior management of the Service. 
   The Command spent two years being driven by a centrally imposed 
   performance measure that was irrelevant to the priorities of the 
   community. The Committee believes that the misguided use of the 
   Crimes Index contributed greatly to the breakdown in trust between 
   the community and Cabramatta LAC. The evidence before the Committee 
   suggests both front line police and the community were substantially 
   in agreement that the Command was focussing on the wrong offences; 
   unfortunately the authoritarian command and control structure of the 
   Service ensured there was no forum for the two to communicate 
   Honestly their concerns [. … 
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