The NSW Police Force has made recommendations for a better future after releasing the findings of their review of investigations into historical deaths, potentially motivated by gay-hate bias.
Strike Force Parrabell was established in 2015 to review 88 deaths that occurred between 1976 and 2000, which were highlighted by researchers as having potential gay-hate bias motivation, or connection with the Gay, Lesbian, Transgender, Bisexual, Intersex, and Queer (LGBTIQ) community.
The strike force consisted of nine specialist investigators, including Gay and Lesbian Liaison Officers (GLLOs), operated under the command of the Corporate Sponsor for Sexuality, Gender Diversity, and Intersex, Assistant Commissioner Tony Crandell.
Assistant Commissioner Crandell said the review sought to clarify whether there was evidence the deaths were motivated by gay-hate bias. “While not perfectly documented, violence against the LGBTIQ community is a well-known blight on human history, not just in NSW – or even Australia – it is a not-so-secret shame for the entire world,” he said.
“We undertook this review knowing we can’t change the past, but we can shape our future, and this needed to be done to acknowledge what has happened and make sure it can’t happen again. Our work was scrutinised by academic experts, and the results show, we didn’t always agree, but what is clear is that there were certainly people murdered because of their sexuality during this time.
“It’s an ugly part of our history – it needs to be acknowledged – and we need to do everything we can to make sure no one is ever again fearful for their life because of who they are.”
The findings of Strike Force Parrabell were further scrutinised with an independent academic review by a team from Flinders University. The review team categorised the cases into five groups: insufficient information to make a determination, no evidence of bias, and three different categories of bias or animus.
Further, the academics sought not to conflate homosexuality with paedophilia (the two are not synonymous). Nevertheless, they differentiated cases where the offender(s) core motivation was an animus towards paedophiles.
Flinders University’s Professor Willem de Lint said discovering bias in criminal acts is not an exact science and reflects changing cultural values and institutional conditions. “While it is important to document bias, it is our view that the over-reporting and recording of bias can produce unfortunate consequences,” he said.
“Over-reporting and recording is fuelled by a confirmation bias, where there is a tendency to search for evidence in accordance with a perception that the phenomenon is more widespread than records would indicate. This can lead to more inclusive categorisation and a ‘confirmation’ that the phenomenon is indeed widespread.
“In addition to over-recording, mis-recording may occur where different kinds of bias motivation are collected under one categorisation. If the motive is complex, over-recording may occur where the subtlety of that motivation cannot be registered,” Prof de Lint said.
As part of the work of Strike Force Parrabell, Assistant Commissioner Crandell also developed a series of recommendations for the NSW Police Force, which strive for best practice, and aim to continually strengthen its relationship with the LGBTIQ community.
“Historically, police and the LGBTIQ community had quite a tumultuous relationship, as demonstrated in 1978, but in recent times, we have progressed in leaps and bounds,” said Crandell. “We now enjoy a strong and inclusive relationship, but we know it can always be stronger and more inclusive, and I made many of the recommendations with that in mind.”
There are 12 recommendations listed in the final report, which include investigative open-mindedness to motive, revised bias crime indicator assessment tools supported by appropriate training packages; ongoing internal ethical and cultural training to specifically include LGBTIQ experiences; expansion of the GLLO program and prominent identification for GLLOs, enhanced cross-jurisdictional police and emergency services activities to promote inclusion, and ongoing improvements to ensure electronic case file archiving.
The recommendations have been reviewed by NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller, and will be implemented. The Homicide Squads Unsolved Homicide Unit also provided support to the Strike Force Parrabell team, and with 23 of the cases remaining unsolved, will consider the findings in any future re-investigations.
Finally, while neither Strike Force Parrabell or the academic team uncovered evidence of institutional anti-gay police bias in their reviews, a small minority of investigations raised concerns by being less than thorough, however, it was not possible to differentiate between available technology, professional misfeasance, circumstance, or bias.
Assistant Commissioner Crandell said it only takes one poorly-investigated case to unravel the great work conducted in hundreds of other investigations. “All investigators strive to do the best they can for a victim but, especially in this context, if we’ve let one victim down, we’ve let them all down,” he said.
“Based on societal values and attitudes at the time, I acknowledge the likelihood of historical bias, whether in small groups or more widespread across the organisation. This however is absolutely not acceptable in the culture of a modern-day NSW Police Force and I can assure the community there are policies, procedures, and systematic checkpoints in place today that negate inaction due to bias.
“Most importantly, on behalf of the NSW Police Force – I acknowledge an absolute requirement to never let history repeat,” concluded Assistant Commissioner Crandell.
Image: One of the many areas around Sydney known for gay-hate bias, Shelly Beach, Manly