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23 Jun 2020

News

From the CEO: Words aren’t just words when they excuse violence

Police officers make a social compact with the community and must behave accordingly.

What you may have missed in all of this is NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller speaking out about the officer’s unblemished record, saying that “you would have to say [the officer] has had a bad day”.

What concerned me about this was not Commissioner Fuller coming to the defence of an employee – I’m the leader of a large organisation myself and understand that nuanced responsibility.

But I couldn’t escape the parallels between his words and those we have worked so hard to eradicate in situations of domestic and family violence: words that excuse the behaviour of perpetrators of violence as a one-off snap by an otherwise good father/husband/son/community member.

When Hannah Clarke and her children were burned alive by her husband, media headlines focused on her husband’s former rugby league career – some even characterised the murders as a ‘horrific car fire’.

Even once the circumstances were clarified, we still heard tone deaf remarks from those in charge of the investigation – indicating they were keeping “a completely open mind” – and reference to those who might think it was “an instance of a husband being driven too far”.

As journalist Juanita Phillips pointed out about media reporting on another DFV incident: “The “good bloke” descriptor in domestic murder cases is so automatic the headline writer used it even though nobody in the story actually described him that way.”

Admittedly, police officers do face different – and additional – pressures to those we find in domestic violence situations. Every day, they deal with vulnerable and sometimes violent individuals where the use of physical force is necessary. They have to make snap decisions and often place themselves in situations of great physical danger.

But, as police officers, they also make a commitment to serve our community and role model the laws they enforce.
If officers were called out to a domestic situation where a parent had pushed a swearing teenager to the ground and restrained them, I would be appalled if they accepted the excuse that the parent was just ‘having a bad day’.

Thanks to technology, our behaviour is subject to more intense scrutiny. As pillars of the community, it is up to police – both officers and leaders – to step up to the standards we set for them and to act with integrity.

Violet Roumeliotis

SSI CEO

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