"Are police officers being subjected to different standards when facing charges or accusations, asks Charlie Bezzina"

WHEN a police officer finds him or herself accused of committing a crime, the rule book seems to get thrown out the window.

The presumption of innocence and certain rights do not seem to apply.

Let’s look at the recent reported matter in the Herald Sun involving Bendigo officer Inspector Mark Edwards.

He was one of 17 police accused of trying to derail an investigation into a fellow officer who crashed his car into a hotel while more than twice the legal blood-alcohol limit.

Insp Edwards was accused of perjury and misleading the Office of Police Integrity.

He was suspended without pay in August after being charged.

The charges against him were inexplicably dropped at the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court last week.

According to Office of Public Prosecutions spokeswoman Lisa Walker, “the evidence was insufficient and there was no reasonable prospect of conviction”.

This crazy set of circumstances begs many important questions.

Would these very serious charges have been laid if Insp Edwards was not a member of Victoria Police?

What dramatic changes happened to the brief of evidence after the inspector was charged?

Why was he charged in the first place?

Our whole judicial premise is based on every person being considered innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

It is the role of police to collect all relevant evidence during an investigation.

Once that is done, a decision must be made on whether sufficient evidence exists to sustain a charge and secure a conviction.

If that box is ticked, an arrest is made and charges are laid.

The decision to lay a criminal charge is one of the most profound an investigator can make.

I say this because that decision can have an irrevocable effect on a person’s reputation, integrity, credibility and, ultimately, their very freedom.

Police officers are treated no differently if they are suspects, but when a cop is actually charged (thankfully not that often), the goalposts seem to be moved.

Civil libertarians fall profoundly silent.

A decision to refuse to answer questions on the grounds of self-incrimination draws much criticism.

Outsiders look on with suspicious eyes, thinking “How dare they exercise this right afforded to every other citizen in the state”.

Police face a double-edged sword.

If charges do not proceed at court, they can still face internal disciplinary action and in turn be fined, demoted or sacked.

Now the Herald Sun reports on the ongoing fallout from the sacking of former leading senior constable Craig Spicer.

Despite countless awards and commendations for his police work over 34 years, which included a leading role to improve relations with the local Sudanese community, he was sacked in 2010 for forwarding a single, but extremely violent film clip of someone being impaled on a pole and dying.

The sacking of officers who have given a lifetime of exemplary service over a very minor matter is dumb founding.

Where no criminal offences are involved and a matter only relates to poor judgment, surely this fits in the realm of other disciplinary action.

Craig Spicer has been put up as an example to others. His sacking begs the question why the member’s past service does not outweigh his poor judgment.

He is certainly not alone as a number of officers have lost their livelihood over a matter that should have attracted a fine.

Once again the community are the worse off for the loss of these fine officers.

In respect to Insp Mark Edwards’ matter, Victoria Police has reportedly agreed to pay his costs after the charges against him were dropped.

Public money will pay those costs, mind you, but that’s still a win for the inspector.

More importantly, how does Victoria Police restore Insp Edwards’ reputation?

Integrity and credibility are the two utmost requirements of any police officer.

Some of that irrevocable damage I mentioned earlier has already been done.

As a serving police officer, Insp Edwards is gagged from talking publicly.

He will now try and rebuild what has been taken from him.

Those responsible should hang their heads in shame.  (Source : http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/law-order/are-police-officers-being-subjected-to-different-standards-when-facing-charges-or-accusations-asks-charlie-bezzina/story-fni0ffqy-1226857370176?sv=86cad0fa8b3db1aeaf4de957cf2c16fc#.U0BnoMpmfsg.facebook)

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