A sluggish Victorian bureaucracy finally takes on crooked cops

A covert police corruption investigation has revealed a culture of criminality, heavy drinking, guns and pornography at a suburban police station. The Age can reveal that the Office of Police Integrity, in a joint operation with the Ethical Standards Department, has charged three detectives from Springvale criminal investigation unit with possessing weapons, theft and handling stolen goods. The investigation also found that heavy drinking sessions and watching pornographic videos were a regular feature for some in the station.

The charges are among the first to be laid against police by the two-year-old Office of Police Integrity. The Age has discovered that the OPI has charged a total of 10 police on summons for various offences. The charges are crucial to the credibility of the OPI, which has been under fire from the Opposition and the Police Association for not charging anyone.

Police sources say that partly as a result of the entrenched problems at Springvale CIU, the unit will be closed and merged with nearby Dandenong. It is believed Detective Senior Constable Ross Colley has been charged with five counts of theft, six of handling stolen goods, and possessing weapons and dangerous goods. Detective Senior Constable Mark Ziemann has been charged with two counts of theft and one of unlawful possession. Detective Senior Constable Kenneth Taylor has been charged with two counts of theft.

But when the cases go to court, the investigation will also reveal details of the blokey culture of a suburban police station. The Age believes that a television in one office in the Springvale station constantly played pornography "as a matter of course" throughout the day. It would be turned off if a female officer entered the office. The investigation is also said to have found that some detectives would, while on duty, go for long, boozy lunches at local pubs and clubs, while one member of the unit would stay sober and remain on call. A source said that after returning to the office late in the afternoon, it was not unusual for officers to drink another slab of beer before going home. There would be two or three alcohol-soaked Friday afternoons each month. Meanwhile, ammunition and firearms were kept lying loose in desk drawers, in contravention of legislation requiring weapons to be safely stowed at all times.

The Age believes that the investigation into the Springvale CIU included "integrity testing", in which temptation is put in the way of officers to see if they resist. Incidents of criminal behaviour were videotaped during the investigation. "It was like an outpost with poor supervision," one source said. Anybody trying to bring about change was ignored.

The charging of the three detectives, who will face Melbourne Magistrates Court for a brief mention next Tuesday, comes as the OPI gears up for the toughest test of its powers yet. The watchdog has ordered a quarter of the armed offenders squad to appear before public hearings in the County Court from next Monday to be questioned about allegations of assault and misconduct. The 35-member squad was disbanded on Friday by Chief Commissioner Christine Nixon, who insisted the move was not a reaction to the OPI's investigation, but in line with reforms of the crime department. The public hearings are also likely to delve into questions about poor policing culture.

The hearings will be only the second time the OPI has used its extraordinary coercive powers in a public setting. It is the first time the powers have been used to target detectives from the elite major crime department. Two officers who appeared at the OPI's first hearing in February are to face court in relation to the alleged theft of $40,000 from an abandoned car in June last year. They are Senior Constable Christopher Sean Vincent and an officer identified only as R100.



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