‘It’s disgusting’: Top cop admits bullying, sexist culture rife in Queensland Police

Queensland’s top cop admits promoting a senior officer after he made lewd public comments could make people think the force tolerates sexism and misogyny at its highest levels.

Oct 05, 2022, updated Oct 05, 2022
Queensland Police Commissioner Katarina Carroll before giving evidence to the Independent Commission of Inquiry into Queensland Police Service responses to domestic and family violence.  (AAP Image/Darren England)

Queensland Police Commissioner Katarina Carroll before giving evidence to the Independent Commission of Inquiry into Queensland Police Service responses to domestic and family violence. (AAP Image/Darren England)

Police Commissioner Katarina Carroll appointed Ray Rohweder as chief superintendent in July, four months after he made the remarks at a conference.

Se also apologised to three female officers who “fell through the cracks” after complaining about sexist and racist bullying, and acknowledged a widespread fear of speaking out about such behaviour.

Carroll said she didn’t want to promote Rohweder, but he’d already been disciplined and she felt obligated to on the recommendation of a promotion panel.

She agreed appointing him could have led people to think the Queensland Police Service tolerated sexism and misogyny at its highest levels.

“Yes, and that’s the damaging outcome of that,” she told the inquiry into police responses to domestic violence on Wednesday.

Deputy Police Commissioner Steve Gollschewski and at least one member of the panel knew about Rohweder’s comments when he was recommended for promotion.

Counsel assisting Ruth O’Gorman KC asked Carroll if she thought the promotion would show junior officers such incidents involving their superiors would be “swept under the carpet”.

“It wasn’t swept under the carpet, it was a bad decision,” Carroll said.

“The whole organisation saw it, so it certainly wasn’t swept under the carpet.

“If I was a junior officer … I’d say ‘You’ve got to be joking’. That’s why … I did not want to promote this person.”

The inquiry also heard that an internal investigation found an officer-in-charge had created a toxic workplace by bullying nine people over the 13 years to 2019.

He yelled, threatened, swore and sent pornographic images to officers in his station, calling one member a “towelhead”.

The man’s behaviour was dealt with via local management resolution, but he was later promoted.

Three female detective senior constables who complained were bullied so badly they either asked be transferred to uniform policing or quit.

Carroll on Wednesday apologised to the women for failing to support them after they spoke out.

“I wish that they didn’t fall through the cracks, I’ve been in their situation, I know what it’s like … terrible and I profusely apologise to them,” she told the inquiry.

Another senior police member was revealed to have preyed on women officers, committing at least nine sexual assaults between 2002 and 2018.

In one incident the detective senior sergeant walked up to a female officer who was waiting to be interviewed for a job and slid his hand over her bottom, up her back and onto her bra.

During her interview a senior officer passed a note saying “loose?” to the same detective senior sergeant, who nodded and smiled.

Counsel assisting the inquiry Ruth O’Gorman asked the commissioner if she found that behaviour disturbing.

“It’s disgusting. It’s predatory. It’s unacceptable. I completely agree,” Carroll said.

O’Gorman told the inquiry police data showed 1676 complaints of threatening, bullying and harassment were made against 738 Queensland Police Service members in the two years to June 30.

Serving and former police made multiple submissions to the inquiry about their fear of being called “a dog” for speaking out.

Some who complained said they were threatened with prison, force fed dog food and given dog bowls or had dog food put on their desks.

She agreed QPS staff would still have a “deep fear of speaking out” about bullying by fellow officers.

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“A deep fear of speaking out, but also losing confidence in the discipline system that should be protecting them,” the commissioner said.

Ms Carroll said a 2019 review found workplace bullying was the result of the force’s “very paramilitary” leadership style, which she was trying to change.

“There is particularly a fear (of speaking out) because it is hierarchical, and their career they feel can be damaged by people within that organisation, that actually (have) control over their career,” she said.

Carroll said she had also relied on annual Working for Queensland surveys to get an idea of workplace bullying, sexism and racism in the force.

After Ms O’Gorman pointed out that a third of QPS staff didn’t take the survey last year, the commissioner accepted that officers were still likely to be falling through the cracks.

“Yes, there is likely to be more,” Carroll said.

The commissioner also denied that she avoided taking harsh action against a former deputy after his lewd comments at a conference to avoid negative media coverage.

Former Deputy Commissioner Paul Taylor referred to a gynaecologist friend as a “vagina whisperer” in a speech at a conference in April.

Carroll used a local management resolution (LMR) to deal with Mr Taylor, which resulted in a one-on-one chat with him.

Under the LMR guidelines, she could have asked him to issue an apology, undertake a course or put him under supervision.

However, after the incident was aired in the inquiry in August she encouraged Taylor to resign.

Carroll said local management resolution was intended to be used for one-off instances for which officers are apologetic and address their behaviour.

However, she admits they had been used for serious matters and the LMR system was manual, so there was little oversight.

“LMR has been applied inappropriately (and) have been applied across the state inconsistently,” she said.

The inquiry before Judge Deborah Richards continues.

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