At various times during my police career I received commendations of various kinds, usually verbal but sometimes in writing. While I have received numerous verbal commendations (some involving a formal “appearance” before an officer at District Headquarters or simply a handshake and a congratulations on a job well done by a local commander), the most valuable commendations are those delivered in writing. Here are a few examples:
Detective – Criminal Investigation Branch
Commendation at District Level for investigation into an alleged homicide. The deceased was a local drug addict, and his father suspected that he and his criminal associates were “cutting” and packaging heroin in the family home while everyone else was at work. In order to collect evidence of the drug dealing, the father installed a small voice-activated microphone in the kitchen bench, so that it would record any conversations that took place in the kitchen area during the day.
In the evening when the father returned home from work he found his son dead on a lounge chair. After listening to the tape recording and hearing his son and associates discussing drug matters, the father concluded that his son had been murdered by way of a “hot shot” (a dose of pure heroin injected into the victim to deliberately cause death).
So began the longest and most arduous investigation of my policing career. The investigation involved a series of collateral own-motion investigations, initiated on the basis of information provided by informers, or rumours circulating within the drug community of Dandenong. Because own-motion investigations are known for their potential to become skewed for reasons of self-justification, bias against individuals and adventure, I kept tape-recorded notes of every aspect of the investigation and regularly updated superiors, including my District Inspector, Detective Superintendent and the Commander of the Crime Department. The Assistant Commissioner for Crime also took a keen interest in the investigation, because of the difficulties created by the father of the deceased. (Note that I am severely critical of the use of own-motion investigations by the Legal Services Commissioner because of their volatility and the ease with which they can be used for improper purposes.)
As a result of my investigations it was found that the deceased was not the victim of murder, but of the drug culture as it existed at the time. The State Coroner, Mr. Hal Hallenstein decided, after hearing two weeks’ of evidence, that I should be commended for the standard of my work as an investigator and wrote a formal letter of appreciation to the Deputy Commissioner of Police.
I received a formal commendation worded as follows:
“Detective Senior Constable Mericka, 21776, commended at District level for a painstaking, thorough and difficult investigation inthe preparation and presentation of an Inquest Brief. The efforts of the member reflect great credit on his professionalism and were the subject of high praise from the State Coroner.”
You can read the full commendation report, together with the Coroner’s findings, by clicking on the following link: MERICKA, P., Detective Senior Constable – Excellent work performed by same
[NOTE: What made this commendation particularly satisfying is the fact that detectives are rarely commended for their work. This is because detectives are regarded as an elite group of police, selected on the basis of their aptitude for investigation, and trained to a level that gives them skills beyond those of general duties police. Detectives are expected to consistently deliver results that would earn uniformed police officers a commendation.]
Sergeant – General Duties Supervisor
Commendation by Chief Commissioner of Police for own-motion investigation into an allegation of police brutality. In 1993 I was a Sergeant, in charge of Box Hill Police Station during the afternoon shift when I received a telephone call from Mr. Greg Connellan of the Fitzroy Legal Service. At this time many members of the Victoria Police regarded the Fitzroy Legal Services with suspicion, because of the group’s active role in making complaints about the interaction of police and inner city youth.
Mr. Connellan told me that he had taken an anonymous call from a citizen’s advice service that he was operating, and that the caller had reported the brutal bashing of a young man by police in the Box Hill area. I had spoken with the constables manning the local divisional van a short time before Mr. Connellan had called, and I was able to tell him that the anonymous caller was mistaken about what he had reported. the prisoner in the custody of the divisional van crew had not made any complaint, nor were there any indications of any wrongdoing on the part of police.
However, although I regarded Mr. Conellan’s complaint as unfounded, I decided to initiate an own-motion investigation into the handling of the prisoner to ensure that any questions about the conduct of police that evening could be answered.
As mentioned above own-motion investigations are problematic, insofar as they involve the making of assumptions, and often these assumptions become goals. In this example, an assumption that the constables were guilty of misconduct could have resulted in the own-motion investigation becoming a search for evidence of wrongdoing. At the same time, an assumption that the constables could not be guilty of misconduct could have resulted in the own-motion investigation becoming a cover-up.
To ensure that the own-motion investigation was legitimate, I communicated with every person involved in the incident, whether that involvement was before, during or after the incident. I documented every communication, and then submitted a report to the Officer in Charge of Box Hill Police Station. Such a procedure is essential in the conduct of any own-motion investigation to ensure the integrity of the investigation and to protect those who may be indicated as having been in some way involved. It will be understood, for example, that the following parties had an interest in the own-motion investigation being properly conducted:
1. The constables. The two constables had been accused of improper conduct, but the accusation had not been made to them directly, nor had it been put to them by me. It was therefore my responsibility to ensure that my investigation would take into account the rights of the constables in terms of their right to know of any allegations made against them, their right to have the matter properly and fairly investigated, and their right to be formally exonerated of any wrongdoing, notwithstanding their being completely oblivious to my collateral enquiries.
2. The prisoner. The prisoner had the right to be protected from a third party who may have been using him as a means to an end. It was possible that the anonymous caller was using the prisoner as a means by which he could get two innocent police officers into trouble. The prisoner was entitled to be heard on the question of his having been a victim of police brutality or a pawn being used to bring down two police members who were simply doing their job in protecting him and others who might become his victims. Either way, the investigation had to consider his position.
3. The parents of the prisoner. The parents loved their son, and they has asked the police to assist them in preventing their son from causing, or getting into, trouble. they were entitled to be heard on the question of whether they regarded the conduct of the police to be acceptable or not in the circumstances.
Of course, other parties, including myself and even the Chief Commissioner of Police and the public at large had an interest in the proper conduct of my own-motion investigation. While it was necessary to provide the Officer in Charge of Box Hill Police Station with a full report of my own-motion investigation, I also saw the opportunity to provide the Victoria Police Media Director with an example of how members of community can sometimes misread events involving police. As it turned out, the Assistant Commissioner for Internal Investigations was informed of the matter, as was the Chief Commissioner. I received a letter of commendation from the Chief Commissioner a few days later. You can read the details of the incident and the commendation at the following link:
[NOTE: I believe that it was largely as a result of this incident that I received a telephone call from the Chief Superintendent of the Internal Investigations Department, inviting me to apply for promotion to the position of Advisor in the in the Discipline Advisory Unit of the Internal Investigations Department.]
General duties policing
Verbal Commendation at District level for detection and arrest of offenders in relation to assaults by shooting. Over a period of weeks a number of people at a bus stop on busy Ballarat Road in Footscray had been shot by someone using a high-powered air rifle. The local CIB (detectives attached to the Criminal Investigation Branch) had been investigating, but there were no leads at all as to where the shots had come from or who might be responsible.
After attending at Western General Hospital with yet another victim of the shootings, my partner and I went to the bus stop to try and determine the most likely position from which the shooter had fired the recent shots. We decided that a nearby block of flats with windows overlooking the bus stop were probably a good starting point, and so we went door-knocking through the flats.
One resident told us of a couple of young men in a flat at the top of block who had caused trouble for other residents, and who had spoken of owning a gun. With this information we went to unit at the top of the block and knocked on the door. When a young man answered the door I could see that he was shocked to see us, and I took advantage of the moment to quickly confront him with the allegation, saying, “We want the gun, and we want it now!” Without hesitation, the young man answered, “I’ll get it, I’ll get it” and showed us to where the gun had been hidden. He and his friend readily confessed to all of the shootings.
The local CIB commander nominated me and my partner for a “Commendation at District Level” for our skill in detecting and arresting two persistent but elusive offenders, and we appeared before the Chief Superintendent to be personally congratulated. I like to look back on this incident as one where experience in dealing with people (albeit limited at this early stage in my policing career) gave me the ability to assess a person’s demeanour and, with high degree of accuracy, to determine the best way to deal with that person. I believe that anyone who has experience in managing people will know what I mean.
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