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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 83

The Police

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The Police.

After the break-up of the Kelly gang of bushrangers, a Victorian Police Commission investigated into the whole management of the force. Without being invidious, and mentioning names, we may sum up the result as a general condemnation of the head quarters. A serious flaw now appears at the other end of the scale, in the admission of undesirable recruits, who have brought great scandal, as will be evident when we bunch together a number of cases which have occurred lately.

After the last of the English troops left Melbourne, we formed a small regular force, which was afterwards dropped in deference to democratic sentiment, but has been reconstituted. Mr. Francis, as Chief Secretary, acted upon a recommendation, from the military interests, that the police and gaol warders should all be recruited from this force, as an inducement for men to join. The system proved a failure. It was found that the training of a soldier did not fit a young man to become a policeman. The soldiers acquired fast habits in barracks, and there was a great deal to be unlearnt. A police sergeant once said to us, "These men are no good for six months."

Consequently the plan was broken up. Recruiting for the police was thrown open. The difficulty over the soldier-police-man was that of the square peg in the round hole. Graver faults have been developed under the present regime, whatever it is. We merely urge that the Chief Secretary must give his attention to the securing of young men of good moral character for the police force.

The time of one officer, Superintendent Sadlier, appears to have been occupied almost for weeks together with complaints against young policemen. Let us summarise a few glaring cases, which all occurred, or rather we will say were brought to light within less than two months during the present year.

The worst was that against a policeman accused of falsely charging a young woman as a street-walker, because she frustrated an attempt on his part to seduce another woman. In the dignified pages of a Review we prefer to understate a matter of this kind rather than to charge the picture sensationally. The affair was fully reported at the Melbourne Police Court. It was afterwards gone into by Mr. Sadlier, without the hamper of court rules of evidence. Whatever might be said for the constable did not come to light, and he resigned.

In the case of the suppression of an infamous house kept by a woman named Loftus, this year, abundant evidence was afforded to the city magistrates, proving that it flourished under the favour and protection of the police. Eleven wretched women page 59 were brought up at the police court in one batch, and the den was broken up, after irresistible evidence of its infamy, carried on for many months. A respectable master butcher in the vicinity deposed that when he complained to the police they threatened to "run him in." He swore that, quite lately, he had seen two policemen, in uniform, dancing on the footpath, in front of this low house, with female occupants of it to the strains of street musicians.

The publicity given to this case dragged forth some yet viler particulars. A senior constable knocked at the door of the house referred to, on official business, at a late hour of the night. Two policemen were sleeping there. They escaped at the back, and were pursued to the Russell-street barracks by the constable who had knocked at the front. This, of course, resulted in an official inquiry, with some hard swearing. The offenders were dismissed.

Another case, yet more serious in the aspect of public safety, was afforded, where a policeman charged a young man with assisting at a disturbance in West Melbourne. The defendant maintained that he was not there at all, and obtained an adjournment on bail. Meanwhile the policeman met him, and threatened him with dire consequences if he did not own up. The young fellow, however, brought evidence upon which the magistrates unhesitatingly accepted his statement, and discharged him.

A week or two afterwards the same policeman was sent on duty on Saturday night, at the Eastern Market, to prevent rioting which occurred there through young roughs meeting with the set purpose of fighting. A police inspector there found the constable intoxicated in uniform, and on duty, or at all events believed him to be so. A scene ensued before a crowd of the public, with the policeman abusing the inspector, and three or four other policemen hustling the culprit off The next day he resigned from the force.

Two other cases occur to us, involving three policemen, the accusations against them being that while they were under the influence of drink, they tried to make arrests, and disturbance resulted. The instances above given will suffice, although others will occur to every newspaper reader.

More and more it is impressed upon us how every evil centres round the Drink traffic. Magistrates and police are hand and glove with it. Apparently, it is the regular thing for a police officer to retire into a public house, as an honourable finish of his days. Four hundred hotels, in Melbourne, sell liquor on Sundays, Every Thursday there is the farce of bringing up two or three in the Police Court, as the only culprits. But then a liquor-seller is Mayor, and another has built a magnificent clergy sanatorium, for which he has been presented with a testimonial containing the page 60 photographs of Bishop Moor house and all the clergy of the Church of England. Thus, even the forces of piety are harnessed on to the Juggernaut chariot which destroys the flower of our population.

The Hon. J. B. Patterson recently made a splendid point, speaking on the Education Act. A brewer had been put forward, as the champion of religion, to overthrow this noble measure, in favour, we suppose, of his own measures. Mr. Patterson referred to an experience in his recent travels. In one city he saw a church beautifully restored, by the munificence of a certain gentleman, who had also built a fine school, and owned a very extensive brewery. A Yankee visitor furnished the comment, "Why, this fellow beats all! He provides Education, Salvation, and Damnation!"

In the course of the Police Commission, some dreadful evidence was given by members of the Police Force about the corruption of the hotels. The most important of these witnesses was afterwards terrified into toning down his statements. He found, indeed, that to be direct and honest is not safe. It was more than his billet was worth to tell the truth. Why is this so? How is it that the "Old Man of the Sea," in the shape of the drink trafficker, sits firmly on the shoulders of the poor taxpayer, controlling Parliament, clergy, magistracy, and police? For one thing, it should be insisted upon that the policeman is a total abstainer from alcoholic poison.

The liquor-seller should be regarded as a social evil. Yet there is positively no business held in more honour. A gentleman who has since achieved a seat on the Licensing Bench once said to us: "A magistracy was offered to me while I held an hotel license. I said to myself, 'Here am I getting my living by making poor fellows drunk, and then I'm to sit in judgment on them.' Well, I couldn't do it." However, as a mere owner of public house property, he can do it. All these things tend to the low tone of the police. They are far too much of a bye-word for their unreliability in the witness-box; so that police evidence, instead of bearing the very Goldsmith's stamp of truth, is generally looked upon as the most suspicious. Then we have the allegations about the employment of the Phizgig, or put-up thief—the persecution of youths and men tarred with the gaol brush, who try to be honest, and—but we really do believe that these points are overstrained. Some people will wonder how terraces of houses have been built on seven shillings a day. However, the point we jar upon is the liquor interest. This was at the bottom of the whole Loftus case, the den being connected with hotel property. It is a terrible task to root out even the worst public houses; and this can never be accomplished until the public has been flagrantly scandalised by the flaunting indifference of the lessees and land- page 61 lords. For years and years the robberies and debauchery of the "Deadhouse" and the "Playground" go on before the innocent public can be roused.

Since the foregoing was written, a case has occurred perhaps more serious than any. A policeman has been dismissed the Force for a false and malicious accusation against a brother policeman, that the latter suggested a division of the plunder in case they should discover a "plant" of money stolen from the National Bank, in the robbery under arms, at the Simpson's Road branch. We have given so many facts that further comment is needless.

Among the Licensed Victuallers' the sacred expression, "The Trade," means as much as "The Church." We attended the mass meeting of the publicans, at the Victoria Hall, as an outcry against the new Licensing Bill. Listening to those eloquent Bonifaces, Messrs. Stutt, Eicke, Pugh, and Meader, we felt ashamed of ourselves, with something of Moses' feelings. "Take thy shoes off thy feet, for this is holy ground."