Queensland police promoted a senior officer who was previously found by an internal inquiry to have engaged in sexist behaviour and systemic bullying over 13 years, including calling a colleague “Osama” and “towelhead”, an inquiry has heard.
The police commissioner, Katarina Carroll, has been questioned at a state inquiry into police culture and police responses to domestic and family violence.
On Wednesday the counsel assisting the inquiry, Ruth O’Gorman KC, revealed details of several incidents reported to the inquiry by serving officers. In each of the cases, officers were dealt with by “local management resolution”, which is effectively a remedial conversation with a more senior officer – a feature of the police discipline system designed to avoid punitive actions.
Carroll told the inquiry many of these cases were “completely inappropriate” for the use of local management resolution. She accepted that some officers felt they could not make complaints for fear of retribution.
In one instance, complaints were made about the officer in charge of a station who was found to have engaged in systemic bullying over a period of 13 years.
The investigation found the officer sent pornographic material to colleagues at the station. At a time when there was only one female officer working in the unit, the senior officer displayed a picture of a woman in swimwear with the words “tap and go”. He also engaged in “racist behaviour” towards other officers.
During the investigation, the officer remained in his job and was appointed to act in a higher-ranking position. He has since been promoted to oversee a larger station, with more staff.
Carroll told the inquiry she had apologised to three female officers who “fell through the cracks” after complaining about the man’s behaviour.
Another case dealt with by “local management resolution” involved an officer found to have made threats towards a female senior officer, after she denied him the opportunity to act in a more senior position.
The inquiry heard the officer said, in front of several colleagues: “She is nothing but a cunt, and if she doesn’t give me a relieving role, I’m going to punch her in the cunt.”
Another senior constable faced no consequences for routinely targeting junior female officers, including threatening to break into one woman’s home and rape her after she rebuffed his sexual advances, the inquiry was told.
Investigators found the officer’s conduct was well known by other officers and management but had gone unreported.
Carroll told the inquiry she was deeply disappointed that senior management of the district had not taken action, saying it was “extraordinarily unacceptable”.
Earlier, the inquiry heard Carroll ignored a recommendation to impose additional disciplinary actions on a deputy commissioner, or make him apologise, over “vagina whisperer” comments at a formal function.
During her first appearance in August, the inquiry revealed deputy commissioner Paul Taylor had made the “inappropriate” and “sexist” comment at an event for senior officers.
The inquiry heard a number of senior policewomen were upset and offended by the comments, which were made at a police conference this year in reference to a friend of Taylor’s, who was a gynaecologist and obstetrician.
In July, another deputy commissioner presented Carroll with a briefing note in relation to the incident. It suggested Carroll might apply additional disciplinary measures, such as requiring him to undertake a training course, or make a written or verbal apology.
Carroll chose to give Taylor “management guidance” and not impose any additional disciplinary measures, the inquiry heard.
She told the inquiry the decision was made because she was aware of other, more serious, complaints about the officer that had not been resolved at the time.
“In my mind, I was looking at two matters … I honestly believed that the other investigation would be swifter than it was,” she told the inquiry.
“He was going to pay a high price for those matters.”
Carroll’s evidence in August sparked the reopening of submissions after the inquiry received a flood of 400 responses, with 270 coming from current police members.
In a written statement to the inquiry, Carroll said she did “not accept” that there were widespread cultural issues in the force.
The president of the powerful Queensland Police Union, Ian Leavers, will be called to give evidence on Friday.
The inquiry will hand its final report to the state government on 14 November.