The Cop (Or: The Newly-Private Citizen)

After two allegedly crooked police commissioners, Frank Bishoff and Terry Lewis, it was a great relief to Queenslanders to have had the benefit of a scrupulously honest cop at the helm for several years. Former Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson (pictured below) is now a Royal Commissioner in semi-retirement. He will undoubtedly do a good job on the royal commission, or at least really try to.


There will have to be a large degree of attention given as to which matters are heard by him. One that comes readily to mind would be those who have encountered the criminal justice system, especially at an early age. The Heiner Affair enquiry matter highlights these concerns. The shredding of the documents by the Goss Government (Queensland) remains a matter of concern for many who feel that the claims of abuse remain essentially uninvestigated.

Another area of sensitivity would be any claims of abuse within the Police Citizen’s Youth Clubs (PCYC). Some have surfaced in the past.

Clearly, the royal commission must listen to witnesses if they have concerns about which particular commissioner hears their claims. This is a general theme not exclusive to commissioner Atkinson. The chief commissioner should give this matter serious consideration.

At the risk of appearing to want to find a fault with everybody, there is another serious concern with this particular appointment. The head of the Queensland Criminal Justice Commission (CJC) recently criticised Mr Atkinson for protecting the police culture in the Palm Island death in custody case. Mr Atkinson denied the allegation.

As a cop for 44 years, with the classic rise through the ranks, it would be hardly surprising if Mr Atkinson did have a somewhat protective attitude towards the police service. A similar phenomenon arises wherever there is a sharp demarcation between a public entity and the general public, such as the military. That is, while a cop is both a cop and a citizen, at times he or she must be a cop first. Those who are responsible for oversight of such organisations must always be aware of a natural tendency to bias in favour of the insider.

I am sure that Mr Atkinson will be taking steps to avoid challenges to his objectivity by proactive actions, possibly even including displaying a sensitivity towards which cases he hears. Fortunately, Mr Atkinson is no longer a cop – he is a citizen only. He is freed from having to choose between the two. Hopefully, he will not transfer to being protective towards his new organisation, the royal commission itself, especially if concerns arise about the suitability of a fellow commissioner.

TOMORROW: Commissioner Coate

That’s all I can say

Lewis Blayse (né Lewin Blazevich)

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