Complaints against Ballarat police officers are three times higher than similar sized stations across the state, Victoria’s anti-corruption watchdog has revealed.
The Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC) allege there has been no significant improvements in ethical behaviour at the station over the last six years, with the number of complaints still “constant and high”.
The commission is currently investigating Ballarat police over a number of allegations, including the excessive use of force towards a vulnerable woman in custody.
In his opening address, Counsel Assisting Jack Rush QC said 157 complaints had been made against officers at the Ballarat Police Station between 2010 and 2012.
Statistics presented during the public hearings on Monday revealed majority of the complaints were against senior officers.
A breakdown of the statistics also revealed 52 Ballarat members had received four or more complaints, almost twice as high as the state average of 2.5 complaints per member.
Mr Rush QC said the three officers with the highest complaints were sergeants, with one officer receiving 18 complaints and another 11 over the course of their career.
A number of local officers are being interrogated by IBAC after a woman was allegedly kicked and left to lie in a cold cell with no blanket or pants on in January of last year.
The public hearings at the Ballarat Law Courts heard the 51-year-old woman, one of four female victims who have made complaints about officers at the Ballarat Police Station since 2009, was arrested for drunkenness and allegedly assaulted by two officers.
Closed-circuit footage aired during the hearings shows the woman being forced to use a cup to take water from the toilet after the water fountain in her cell wasn’t working.
The footage also shown the woman being stripped of her clothes in front of a male officer after being involved in an earlier scuffle and sprayed with pepper spray.
“She was kicked, stomped on and stood upon,” Mr Rush QC said.
He said police involved in the alleged incident will be asked to describe what happened on the night during the week-long hearing.
Another three alleged incidents involving officers at Ballarat will also be examined during the hearings.
The supervising officer on January 14, Sergeant Renee Hulls, was the first officer to give evidence.
The officer told the hearing she said to the woman in custody, who she described as argumentative at the time, it would likely only be four hours until she would be released.
She told the hearing she didn’t recall the woman’s request for water, but was later called to the cell by the woman.
Sergeant Hulls said she went to the cell where the woman took her lanyard from her neck.
CCTV footage showed the officer returning to the cell once she realised the lanyard was missing where a scuffle broke-out and the woman was hit with pepper spray.
When asked why the woman could not have been monitored on CCTV instead of returning to the cell, she told the inquiry she had concerns for the woman’s safety.
“She had a sharp pen and piece of cord,” Sergeant Hulls said.
The hearing heard Sergeant Hulls left the station after having a reaction to the pepper spray.
A 95kg male, Senior Constable Steven Repac, who was seen on the same CCTV footage after the initial pepper spray incident standing on the woman’s legs, also gave evidence at Monday’s hearing, telling the inquiry he only stood on the woman’s legs to stop her from “kicking out”.
“I was taking every precaution to position myself where we could control her,” he told the examinations.
When questioned whether he knew the woman was already handcuffed when he was standing on her, he said he unaware at the time and did not look at her upper body to see whether she had been handcuffed or not.
The footage also shown the senior constable allegedly stomping on the woman, in which he responded by telling the inquiry he thought she was going to kick out.
“I thought there was a threat I was going to be kicked, it was a knee-jerk reaction,” he said.
The officer was also asked about care guidelines for people who have been sprayed with pepper spray, with particular emphasis on the temperature of the water he placed the woman under.
“I don’t know, I didn’t turn the water on. I could tell it wasn’t hot, it wasn’t steaming,” he said.
“I didn’t think to check the temperature of the water.”
Another four officers will give evidence on Tuesday.
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