You’ve got to hand it to the headkickers in the Victoria Police union – they sure know how to run a spin campaign.

Last week the Office of Police Integrity inquiry into the armed offenders squad played graphic footage that showed police beating a suspect. Somehow, in the hands of a compliant media, the story ended up being reported largely as an industrial relations dispute between the police union and Chief Commissioner Christine Nixon and the Police Association head Paul Mullett over the “rough justice” of publicly shaming members.

The campaign to exonerate the police was led by 3AW talkback presenter Neil Mitchell in last Thursday’s Herald Sun.

There appears to be a kangaroo court at work in this town today, and it is doing to certain members of the Victoria Police exactly what it accuses them of doing. What is unfolding is far more sinister and disgraceful than any bunch of idiot detectives who might decide to belt a confession out of a suspect.

Mitchell, who relies heavily on police leaks and cooperation for the cops and robbers stories that pepper his morning talk show sure knows what side his bread is buttered on. What else could possibly make him think that shaming police by playing the footage of their brutality outside a court is actually worse than the brutality itself?

You’ve also got wonder where he got this idea:

The Office of Police Integrity seems to have decided that a number of police, former members of the armed offenders squad, are guilty of bashing suspects. Perhaps they are. Perhaps they are not. Most frontline police will face such charges at some stage during their career because the crooks they deal with will invent stories of violence to gain an edge or engineer a payback.

Pardon? The video of the beating didn’t lie. It’s true there’s a fair chance it won’t lead to a successful prosecution of those involved — as any lawyer will tell you, it’s notoriously difficult to successfully prosecute police. They know the law and the rules of evidence better than most. They also tend to be convincing and credible witnesses, and juries tend to be reluctant to convict police because of the place of trust they hold in the community.

But that doesn’t make the video footage a lie, or the actions of the police caught on camera any less shameful. Yet here was Mitchell, a journalist, leading the case for the defence and arguing that the public should not even be allowed to see what these thugs had done.

Chief Commissioner Nixon, and the Victorian Government through the Office of Police Integrity, face a difficult battle breaking up the notoriously us-and-them culture of the armed offenders squad. It makes their job all the harder that they have to take on a club of powerful police mates in the Victorian media who are more interested in where their next story is coming from than frank and fearless reporting.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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