If you’ve visited the careers section of the South Australia Police website, you may have stumbled across a page titled “People from diverse backgrounds.”
On this page, SAPOL waxes lyrical about what a wonderfully inclusive organization it is. Readers are treated to the heart-warming story of “Shane,” an officer of both Scottish and Aboriginal heritage who “sees himself as a mediator, helping to educate both his team and the community and bridge the gap between Aboriginal people and policing.”
Readers will then be treated to the following claim:
“At SA Police, we’re committed to being a diverse and inclusive organisation where all people are safe, respected and supported to reach their potential. This means we support inclusive work practices and have a zero-tolerance policy for any forms of discrimination, harassment and bullying.”
Like most of what SAPOL says, this is absolute nonsense.
SAPOL Routinely Practices and Tolerates Racism
In stark contrast to its claims of zero tolerance for discrimination, harassment and bullying, SAPOL has a long history of practising and tolerating all three behaviours.
The most recent case to emerge involves former SAPOL officer Gabriella Capponi, who quit the force last month after enduring constant harassment because her partner was an Aboriginal man. Who Ms Capponi dates is no-one else’s concern, but the feeble-minded bigots at SAPOL chose to make her private life their business, subjecting her to an ongoing stream of racist remarks.
“I’ve had people come up to me in the workplace and say, ‘oh does your mate even work, or does he just steal cars for a living?’” said Ms Capponi.
In October last year, Ms Capponi joined a task force called Operation Mandrake, formed to specifically investigate Aboriginal offenders, but resigned in early November after her partner’s ethnicity became a running joke in the office.
“It was a bit of a joke that I was dating him,” she said. “It was like, ‘how funny is it that Gabby is dating an Aboriginal person?’”
“I’d hear them making comments like ‘just another David’. I asked what it meant and they said ‘Get it? David Boon. Rhymes with coon,'” she said.
“I had someone come in and say to somebody else in front of me and try to sort of whisper it, ‘oh does she get benefits now that they’re living together?’”
“I think that was my last straw, the benefit comment – I said nah, you know what, this is not ok anymore, they’ve got to stop saying this.”
Ms Capponi said the force failed to recognise and take accountability for the racist behaviour of its staff. “Everyone else in the office sort of let it go and that’s the issue. It’s not even the fact that the person was saying it, it’s the fact that everybody else let it go as well and treated it as normal,” she said.
Before Ms Capponi joined Operation Mandrake, she said she had heard racial remarks from colleagues directed towards Aboriginal people, but she really picked up on it once she started dating her boyfriend.
“I had seen things that didn’t sit right with me which became more obvious after dating him and then I started to notice it and recognise it a bit more and to be honest, for years, I was thinking, this doesn’t seem right, this isn’t right,” she said.
The former policewoman said she was scared to come forward. “It’s really hard to stand up for yourself in the police because … the culture is if you’re the one who stands up and says something then you’re the one that then becomes the target,” she said.
Upon leaving the force, Ms Capponi said she became a target. “I reckon the day that I pretty much lost it, everybody looked at me like I was a snitch or something and I was then the person who became a target,” she said.
Her boyfriend Anthony Wilson was drafted into the AFL by the Adelaide Crows in 2014. Ms Capponi said their relationship has been strained in the wake of the alleged bullying.
Capponi recently met with her lawyers and confirmed she will pursue a workplace claim against South Australia Police for the racist comments and harassment.
Another Fine Example of SAPOL’s ‘Zero Tolerance’
Another example of SAPOL’s sheer indifference towards racism came to light in 2015, when it was revealed a SAPOL constable questioning an Aboriginal man called him a “black cunt”, before saying he would like to tie a hose around his neck, set him on fire and drag him behind the police car “with the lights and sirens on”.
This sociopath was clearly unfit to work as a law enforcement officer and should have been fired immediately. As both the acting SA ombudsman, Michael Grant, and his predecessor, Sarah Bolt, noted, the unnamed constable was “entirely unsuitable to continue as a member of the police force”.
“I am currently dealing with another complaint from Aboriginal people about the conduct of the same officer, which occurred only a few weeks after the abuse of the Aboriginal man in this case,” Grant said.
But apart from being directed to take a paid six-week break at the police academy and undergo some token “cultural awareness training,” the officer escaped without penalty.
So much for SAPOL’s zero tolerance towards racial discrimination!
Gender Discrimination Also Alive and Well at SAPOL
SAPOL also has a long history of practising and tolerating misogyny and sexual harassment.
In 2016, the Equal Opportunity Commission released a report titled Sex Discrimination, Sexual Harassment and Predatory Behaviour in the South Australian Police Force. The EOC found there was a toxic “boys’ club” culture within the force. When compiling its report, the commission heard from around 2,000 respondents – around 30 per cent of SAPOL. Of those respondents, 36 per cent had personally experienced sexual harassment and 45 per cent of respondents had personally experienced sex discrimination.
Almost two-thirds – 61 per cent – perceived sexual harassment and predatory behaviour occurred in the organisation.
The report found discriminatory and harassing behaviour was seen as being “acceptable and normalised” at SAPOL.
As an indication of the kind of the sleazy dickheadedness female recruits can expect when they join SAPOL, in 2016 a female officer alleged the lads at SAPOL sent her explicit text messages, ranked her attractiveness, and drew genitalia in her hat. The officer, who filed action with the SA Employment Tribunal for sexual harassment, told the Industrial Court her male colleagues touched her and sent her crude messages while she was working, including one about a “gluten-free penis.”
It’s a sobering thought to think these are the people you’re supposed to call when you’ve been sexually assaulted or raped, or subjected to domestic violence.
The EOC found the reported incidence of predatory behaviour (i.e. the misuse of authority or influence to exploit others for sexual or other personal gratification) in SAPOL was 21 per cent higher than the general population figure (49 per cent vs 28 per cent).
Take another look at those figures, and let them fully sink in for a moment. SAPOL personnel – the people entrusted to uphold law and order in South Australia – are almost twice as likely to be sexual predators than the average person!
It’s bad enough that Australia’s disgraceful rate of rape and sexual assault ranks among the highest in the world (in the early 2000s, Australia ranked second only behind South Africa for per capita rape incidents; more recently, Australia ranked 11th). But rather than resolve to earnestly tackle this problem, the misogynists who work at SAPOL are far more likely to be sex predators than the average person.
How Dare You Suffer Endometriosis!
Another appalling example of the archaic, chauvinist attitudes commonplace among senior SAPOL officers came to light after a federal court case launched by ex-SAPOL constable Sarah Berry.
Berry suffers severe dysmenorrhea (period pain) and endometriosis, a not uncommon gynaecological condition that can cause excruciating pain and, in some cases, infertility. She has suffered the condition since her teens, but wasn’t diagnosed until 2012, three years into her job as a constable working in the family violence and child abuse sphere.
Her sergeant at the time of her 2012 diagnosis was “very understanding” and Sarah says she was comfortable discussing her situation with him. However, when an acting senior sergeant became involved, things took a sharp turn for the worse. He demanded multiple meetings, repeated explanations and directed her to the police psychologist.
“They drove me into to town, walked me into the HQ building while I cried the whole time, saying, ‘I don’t need to be here,’” she recalls.
The psychologist found nothing wrong with her.
Berry requested a transfer, but her new boss “ended up being even worse”, making her attend one-on-one meetings once or twice a fortnight to go over her medical issues again and again. The ordeal, she says, affected her even more than her work with traumatised families.
Court documents confirmed the questioning continued even when she was “sobbing uncontrollably and obviously in extreme distress”.
In one meeting her bully boss made her do a role play of managing herself and her disability. He told her she was a burden, that she “frustrated the fuck out of him”.
“He told me: ‘You need to increase your pain threshold, and if you need to drag yourself to work and throw up in the toilets all day then that’s what you do to prove to SAPol that you want to be part of this organisation.’”
In March 2014, Berry took stress leave. Six months later she and her representatives filed a claim with the Human Rights Commission. When a mediation process failed (again, so much for SAPOL’s zero tolerance of discrimination), the case was referred to the federal court.
The judge ruled that endometriosis and severe dysmenorrhea fell within the definition of disability in the Disability Discrimination Act. Faced with legal action, SAPOL eventually agreed to settle for an undisclosed sum and issue a written apology.
These are but a few of the examples showing SAPOL’s claim of zero tolerance towards discrmination and harassment is a bald-faced lie. PR statements on a website are one thing, but SAPOL’s real life actions are another. In reality, rather than punish bullying and discrimination, SAPOL tolerates both, ostracizes those who dare to complain about it, uses its legal resources to vigorously fight legitimate harassment claims, and fails to take any real punitive action against officers who hurl even the most repugnant racial abuse.
SAPOL, in short, is a terminally dishonest organization replete with bullies, bigots and misogynists.
SAPOL’s token propaganda statement on equal opportunity.