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Police culture tolerates racism, sexism and homophobia - and it's a hard habit to break


Changing the “canteen culture” in the Queensland Police Service that fails to condemn racist, homophobic and sexist comments will take money and commitment, an inquiry has been told.

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As the commission of inquiry into the Queensland Police responses to domestic and family violence wraps up the fourth week of evidence, an international social justice campaigner has voiced reservations about what will ultimately be achieved.

Dr David Singh has worked on several high-profile racial justice campaigns, including a brutal UK murder that captured international headlines.

Stephen Lawrence was just 18 when he was stabbed to death in southeast London by a gang of white youths in an unprovoked attack in 1993.

Charges against five white youths were dropped due to “lack of evidence” and it would be almost two decades before two of his killers were finally brought to justice.

The crime and the investigation and inquiry that followed exposed the institutional racism of London’s Metropolitan Police.

However, Dr Singh said despite inquiries and reviews that followed, there had been negligible impact

“We’ve had certainly here in Queensland (Police) Facebook groups where racist, homophobic and sexist comments are traded freely without censure,” Dr Singh said.

“There is a particular canteen culture where this training simply doesn’t permeate more or kind of advance police understanding in any sustained way.

“I would question the value of training overall, having been personally involved in co-designing training for the largest police force in the world.”

Dr Singh feared any initiatives would be met with a mixed response by police and without a long-term commitment to funding change and training, a cultural shift could be difficult to sustain.

“Inquiries, such as this, and many others, often introduce at their conclusion a raft of recommendations,” Dr Singh stated.

“They often are unevenly applied and implemented, and those that are implemented rarely exist beyond two or three years because there’s not been sustainable funding for their continuance.

“Initiatives such as training that encompass race and gender are normally the first to go in any cost-cutting exercise, they are rarely ring-fenced in any kind of austerity push on the part of local councils and NGO sectors.”

Fellow academic Professor Chelsea Watego said the QPS had failed Indigenous communities, the inquiry heard.

She shared the experience of an Indigenous woman at Ipswich who was forced to flee her home semi-naked after a former partner tried to strangle her.

“She had the wherewithal to call triple-zero in the midst of it. So they were aware of what was happening and the severity of this but when the police presented, they did not press charges, despite the severity of the offence.

“They removed the perpetrator but did not press charges … the police subsequently apologised for I quote ‘dropping the ball on this one’.”

Indigenous women were never seen as a victim in need of care and protection and there was a belief they were complicit in their own violence, the professor said.

“We see that not only in life but in death.”

“This is not just unique to Queensland – though, we have looked at Queensland Police Service cases – is that even in death, Indigenous women are not deemed worthy enough for proper investigation.”

Judge Deborah Richards is heading the independent commission created in response to Women’s Safety and Justice Taskforce recommendations.

The inquiry moved to Mt Isa for week five with the commission to report to the Queensland government by October 4.

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