• A New South Wales Police Officer seen collapsed on the ground during the Classes of 2020 Attestation Parade. (AAP)Source: AAP
An investigation by the law enforcement watchdog revealed years of unchecked harassment and bullying, labelling those claims dealt with by the same command as "clearly a conflict”.
Shahni Wellington

16 Dec 2020 - 3:52 PM  UPDATED 16 Dec 2020 - 3:52 PM

The Law Enforcement Conduct Commission (LECC) has revealed systemic failures in how the New South Wales Police Force has dealt with internal workplace bullying.

After a number of complaints of bullying, harassment and discrimination were filed against a senior commander in the New South Wales Police Force (NSWPF), 'Operation Tabarca' was launched by the law enforcement watchdog.

It investigated how a male officer, who was dismissed for misconduct in 1992 and later re-instated and promoted, had continued to be involved in the harassment, bullying and victimisation of staff across a 14-year period. 

Employees told the Commission their treatment by senior officers in the NSWPF resulted in a psychological injury, with some of those even being medically discharged. 

On Wednesday, the LECC released a subsequent report that investigated how the NSW Police systems failed to put a stop to it earlier. 

Names of specific persons and places were suppressed throughout the document as it detailed claims of bullying and harassment, and how they were dealt with by that same command.

The report called that internal review process "inappropriate and clearly a conflict," and that it would have given the injured officers "little comfort that the matter would be properly investigated."

It coincides with another report by the Commission, tabled to Parliament on Tuesday, that recommended an overhaul of how the NSWPF conduct strip searches.

No red flags despite "appalling" behaviour

Data revealed that between January 2014 and March 2019, there were 15 staff terminations under the command of the investigated officer.

Despite this trend and other "damning evidence", no red flags were raised through the complaints system or brought to any officer's attention within the NSWPF.

The failures of detecting and dealing with bullying and harassment within the force were highlighted in the LECC report.

It stated that if not for a complaint made to the Commission and its subsequent investigation, "it seems likely that the officer would have still been in charge of the Command and his behaviour never exposed and investigated."

During private examinations throughout the investigations, witnesses detailed their experiences under the investigated officer between 2002 and 2016.

‘Appalling...domineering, bullying, lack of consultation, his way or the highway to sum it up,’ one witness told the Commissioner for Integrity, Lea Drake."

Another witness described the officer as "an ‘alpha male [who] didn’t like to be challenged”.

"If you were an assertive female in the command you - he - you copped it a bit," a witness said.

A union representative told the Commission they had not received any allegations against the officer. 

"Bullies promoted rather than dealt with"

Former Secretary of Police Association of New South Wales and former member of the force's Medical Discharge Review, Peter Remfrey, gave "particularly concerning" evidence to the Commission.

During a private examination in September last year, Mr Remfrey recalled one particular case where a medical report referred to “ ...almost organisationally sanctioned harassment” .

In his evidence, Mr Remfrey said he had seen Commanders over the years who were regarded as bullies promoted rather than dealt with, and he had seen situations that should have been a red flag to human resources, such as sick leave levels and transfer numbers, where no action was taken.

The Commission said this evidence suggests that whilst the NSWPF has policies and guidelines in relation to respectful workplace behaviour, those policies were not necessarily being implemented.

In response to the report, the NSWPF has developed a new four-tiered management model to investigate misconduct matters, and established a "Safe Reporting and Advisory Unit".

The Law Enforcement Conduct Commission said it was satisfied that the management model would "go a long way in addressing the mentioned issues," and recommended that mandatory and regular refresher training about appropriate workplace behaviour be introduced.

There will be another review of the New South Wales Police Force’s response to the report six months after it is fully established.

Law enforcement watchdog recommends overhaul of NSW Police strip searches
The final report shows that in 2019-20, 17.8% of all strip searches were conducted on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.