Recently the local head cop, NT Police Commissioner Paul White, hosted an annual conference of Australasian police chiefs in Darwin. In the spirit of his previous comments on the activities of OMCGs, Tara Ravens, in this report from the Sydney Morning Herald says that Commissioner White:
…believed “extreme measures” were needed. “There is no single piece of legislation that is going to cure the problem,” he said. “It’s a matter for us to work together to use our best endeavours to counter the national effects of these outlaw motorcycle gangs. “These people are dangerous, they are involved in murder, they are involved in drug trafficking. They are assailants. You name it, they’re in it.”
And, while you would think that in these times where security is apparently such an all consuming concern that a gathering of the leaders of Australian police forces would be locked down in a set of hermetically sealed secure rooms where they would be protected from the nefarious forces committed to undoing their good work – particularly those evil OMCGs – it appears that the cops chose comfort over security.
The boss cop’s chose the local casino in Darwin for their accommodation for the week, and, to the alarm of several involved, it turns out that they shared their accommodation with…a bunch of Hells Angels in town for a bit of hunting and fishing.
As Dylan Welch reported in the Sydney Morning Herald:
It was a police conference about outlaw bikie issues, but nobody expected the Hells Angels to actually attend.
…within hours of the senior police and their entourages arriving at Darwin’s hotel and casino complex, SkyCity, Northern Territory police security realised the commissioners were sharing a hotel floor with two Hells Angels. The Hells Angels had not arrived to cause problems, but for “rest, relaxation and a party”, a bikie source said. “NT police security assessed the situation and gave the two members the option to change their rooms,” a NT police spokeswoman confirmed. “The two members declined and chose to take accommodation elsewhere.” In one of the more humorous moments, the two Hells Angels arrived to get on a commercial fishing boat the day after the conference ended only to find six police commissioners also planning a spot of fishing. “The members were interrogated by police as to what they were doing there – you know, assassination plot or fishing plan,” the bikie source said.However, he said the federal police commissioner, Mick Keelty, “went into a hyper state” after running into two Hells Angels in the foyer of SkyCity. A spokesman for Mr Keelty said there was no “incident or interaction whatsoever with the commissioner and any bikies or bikie associates”.
This is all small beer in the scheme of things and of course the cops then got down to the heavy work of saving us all from the apparently serious threats that OMCGs pose to our health and welfare.
It is useful to have a brief look at what is but one indicator of why we should be a little less ready to accept the hype broadcast by the forces of law and order that the OMCGs are some form of criminal evil incarnate.
A few years ago The Finks MC held a run to Alice Springs to celebrate the opening of their new clubhouse. Predictably the NT police reacted with their usual strength in numbers and force – as the NT Police media office reported:
A team of police officers led by Detectives from the Drug and Intelligence Unit, Alice Springs, executed a total of six search warrants between Thursday 13 April and Saturday 16 April 2006 on a clubhouse, a business and four separate residential properties in the town area all known to be linked to the gang.
The Police seized an unknown quantity of speed, some firearms, ammunition and minor weapons and arrested one woman and four men, only one of whom was a Finks MC member.
A month later it appears that the Finks MC members and associates were still in the Alice and the cops were still on their case. Whether through frustration at being unable to pin some major crimes on The Finks MC members while they were in Alice or through sheer drunken stupidity, on the Sunday night of the weekend of 6 and 7 May 2006 a few of the Police involved took matters into their own hands.
As the local NT News reported at the time:
Six off-duty police officers who allegedly damaged property inside an outlaw bikie gang’s clubhouse were caught on video camera, it was claimed yesterday. The Darwin-based officers are believed to have kicked in the door of the clubhouse in Alice Springs last week after an alleged drinking session at a nearby hotel. It is alleged that in two separate raids, a numberplate was stolen from a vehicle parked outside the clubhouse and a sign smashed. The bikies claim they captured the alleged break-in on video and gave the tape to police early last week.
Another officer involved in the operation claimed the six off-duty officers had been drinking on the night of the incident and had tarnished the reputation of the police force. “They went out and got on the piss and destroyed the integrity of all the other officers involved in the operation,” the officer alleged.
NT Police media director Sandra Mitchell denied the Police Commissioner had paid $1000 over the bar for the officers’ alcohol on the night of the incident. “The Commissioner paid for absolutely no drinks at the end of the operation,” she said.
That the Commissioner didn’t pay for a few drinks doesn’t really answer the question now does it? Maybe the local commander fronted the bar tab – who knows?
In July 2006 the NT Police media office reported that the six off-duty NT Police officers who had been involved in the ‘incident’ at the Finks MC clubhouse in Alice Springs were the subject of NT Police internal disciplinary proceedings.
The six officers were suspended with pay following a preliminary assessment of the circumstances of the incident, which allegedly occurred on the Sunday evening, after the completion of a special policing operation. Three of the officers were recently allowed to resign and another had his appointment as a police officer terminated. The two remaining officers who were suspended are the subject of ongoing disciplinary matters.
The six officers were part of a major operation conducted to maintain law and order and public safety during an event which saw in excess of 100 members and associates of the Fink Motor Cycle Gang converge on Alice Springs on the weekend in question. They were alleged to have been involved in two incidents involving property at the Finks club house.
Commissioner of Police, Paul White, said the allegations were serious and it was unfortunate that the success of the operation had ended up on this note. It was also regrettable that the careers of the four police officers had ended in this fashion.
The operation in Alice Springs was noteworthy for its professionalism and positive effect. The visible and focussed police presence ensured an incident-free weekend for residents of Alice Springs with social order maintained despite the large number of Fink members in the town, said Commissioner White.
Yes, well he would say that wouldn’t he…it is a very rich spin indeed that regards three officers resigning and others having their appointments as Police officers terminated as an exemplar of professional conduct likely to instill public confidence in the integrity of the NT Police force.
Other versions of the events were not so circumspect. A more humorous, and most likely more accurate, version of events was reported by the Sydney Morning Herald on 10 July 2006:
LAW AND LAST ORDERS
Cops and bikers don’t mix very often, but when they do, things get ugly.
After a “drinking session” at the pub, some off-duty Northern Territory police allegedly decided to try to spook a local bikie gang after supporters of the Finks arrived in Alice Springs to celebrate the opening of a new clubhouse. Six tipsy officers converged on the premises and kicked down the door. What happened next is not yet public, but we assume it involved lots of stumbling around the shadows, an occasional meaty thud and some muffled curses.
The surprised bikies captured most of the raid on video and did the responsible thing: handed it in to the police. Three officers have resigned, another was sacked and two are being investigated. No bikies have yet been promoted.
I’ll continue to follow and report on similar incidents of NT Police misconduct – particularly in relation to bikers in the NT – not only because such incidents are relevant in the broader scheme of the legislative and policy responses to the supposed threats that the activities of OMCGs present to peace and good governance but, more importantly, how effective those responses are – particularly in a context where individuals are targeted for the mere fact of their association with members of their club – rather than any particular crimes they may have themselves committed.
Meanwhile, calls for widening of extreme laws against criminal bike gangs (see Gangs rally for legal challenge), and the probability of a renewed moral panic in the wake of the latest minor upsurge in “boat people” arrivals off northern Australia, seem certain to bring these matters back into sharp legal and political focus.
As Ken Parish said in this post over at Club Troppo recently in relation to the current ongoing disputes between the State and the Courts – a fine example of what post-structuralists call ‘the state of exception’ – as exemplified by the High Court of Australia’s recent judgement in Thomas v Mowbray:
In case I haven’t made myself clear, my point is more nuanced than the tiresome left versus right dualism that pervades both the blogosphere and MSM. Terrorism, criminal bikie gangs and people smuggling operations are entirely legitimate subjects for government concern and possibly legislative action. However, they demand proportionate responses, and carefully considered checks and balances to reduce the risk of extraordinary powers being abused. Kneejerk populist political responses to media-fuelled moral panics don’t produce optimal or even workable laws or policies.