Lawyers say more people are becoming dissatisfied with the police complaints system and taking are their battles to lawyers.
Lawyers say more people are becoming dissatisfied with the police complaints system and taking are their battles to lawyers.

An increasing number of Queenslanders are suing police officers claiming abuse, but the public is being kept in the dark, a leading civil libertarian claims.

Queensland Council for Civil Liberties vice-president Terry O'Gorman said more people were becoming dissatisfied with the Queensland Police Service complaints system and taking their battle to a lawyer.
There's a real problem with police violence... 
But, in most cases, the QPS moved quickly to settle under a confidential agreement and avoided the court room and the public eye.

"They don't want to take them to trial so they settle on confidential terms so the amount of money paid and the allegations are never published in the media," Mr O'Gorman, a lawyer, said.

His comments came after a rare case this week when 65-year-old homeless man Bruce Rowe successfully pursued criminal charges against a Queensland police officer.

The Brisbane District Court found Constable Benjamin Arndt guilty of assault.

Constable Arndt was one of four police officers who restrained Mr Rowe in 2006 after an altercation in Brisbane's Queen Street Mall.

Mr Rowe was originally charged over the incident but won an appeal and then launched a private prosecution of assault against Constable Arndt, who was fined $1000 and ordered to pay $2250 in costs.

No conviction was recorded and the Queensland Police Union is appealing the decision.

"It shows how broken the police complaints process is in Queensland that [Mr Rowe] could only get a remedy in response to excessive police force by having to bring a private criminal prosecution," Mr O'Gorman said.

"There's a real problem with police violence, which is also reflected in the Airlie Beach case last year."

In that case, ex-policeman Benjamin Thomas Price, 34, was jailed for 27 months over the bashing of a tourist and a barmaid, including forcing a fire hose into the tourist's mouth, at an Airlie Beach watch house.

Mr O'Gorman said civil criminal proceedings were rare because the civilian was required to put up security costs, however civil proceedings were becoming increasingly common.

Lawyer Simon Morrison said his Brisbane firm, Shine Lawyers, had dealt with more than 100 civil cases against police in the past 10 years and "the vast majority" had settled early with confidential financial payments made to his clients.

"Twenty years ago it was quite rare [to prosecute a police officer]," he said.

"These days, we're seeing more of it because people are more aware of their rights."

More than 2000 complaints are made against Queensland police officers each year. Almost 3000 were made during 2009/10 - the most in at least five years - according to QPS.

QPS would not reveal how many led to legal action, including confidential settlements, advising to apply for that information via the Right to Information Act.

In a statement, QPS said it was satisfied with the complaints process available to civilians.

"There are a range of ways a member of the community can make a complaint against a member of the Queensland Police Service," the statement says.

"These include through contact with the Crime and Misconduct Commission or the Queensland Police Service by letter, email, telephone or personal attendance.

"The Queensland Police Service considers these processes adequately allow the reporting of complaints against members of the Queensland Police Service."

In defending the actions of Constable Arndt, the Queensland Police Union argued that arresting officers were sometimes required to use force and Constable Arndt had been "doing his job".

The union has called for an end to civil prosecutions against police.

"The solution to this problem is for Queensland to finally introduce 'protection legislation' for police who are acting in good faith, and seeing as though every other state in Australia already has these laws, police consider this step uncontroversial," QPU president Ian Leavers said this week.

"It is now at the stage where police who are involved in any situation where they are required to use force could be at risk of criminal prosecution even if the CMC say they have no case to answer.

"The Police Union will fully support any police officer who refuses to place themselves in a situation where they may need to use force, as the repercussions and consequences of even a basic arrest with minimal use of force could be many years of heartache for the officer and their family and the potential for that officer to be found guilty, have a conviction recorded, lose their job and career all because the legislation in Queensland is insufficient and not in line with every other state."

Mr O'Gorman said the union's proposal would be "a rapid throw back to the Joh Bjelke-Petersen days".

"If the police are to be protected from private civil suits and private civil prosecution ... they would be totally unaccountable," he said. 11 Feb 20111

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