One officer who faced the prospect of losing his job over an inappropriate e-mail has committed suicide and another could be sacked over an e-mail that was said to be “extremely racist”.
The most serious e-mail circulated on the police internal system depicted graphic images of a non-Caucasian man being tortured. It is understood that some police officers added racist comments to the e-mail before sending it on.
Many of the e-mails are too shocking to be released, Simon Overland, the Police Commissioner of Victoria, said yesterday.
Mr Overland told ABC Radio: “There are a large number of police involved. I guess there are different degrees of seriousness, but it was quite widespread. If the public were aware of the nature of that material I believe that it would cause significant concern within the community.”
News of the e-mails comes after members of the Indian and African communities in Melbourne accused the police of racism. A series of unsolved street attacks on Indian youths in the past ten months has led to claims in the Indian media of racism in police ranks, with one newspaper depicting a police officer as a member of the Ku Klux Klan.
Last week Michael Strong, the director of the Office of Police Integrity, said that Victoria Police had started an investigation into racist attitudes in the force after a report accused officers of attacking African youths in Melbourne.
The report, by the Springvale Monash Legal Service, claimed that the police had taunted the African men, calling them “monkey” and “black c***”. In one instance, the report claims, a group of police officers removed their uniforms to attack a group of Africans in a park. Some of the victims had to be taken to hospital after the attack.
Helen Yandell, director of the Springvale Monash Legal Service, told The Times that she was not surprised by the latest e-mail revelations.
“There is a culture of racism within the Victorian police force,” Ms Yandell said. “It is an issue that needs to be addressed. I’m pleased that the police are taking such quick action on these e-mails.”
Mr Overland refused to confirm whether the e-mails targeted the Indian or African communities but said that they were so serious that they raised “real questions about a number of individuals’ suitability to continue with Victoria Police”.
He confirmed that Sergeant Tony Vangorp, an officer for 30 years who shot himself this week at a Victoria police station, was among the officers identified in a crackdown on the use of computers.
Mr Vangorp and one other officer had been issued with what is known as a Section 68 for introducing the e-mails into the police system. Mr Overland informed the officers that he had no confidence in them and asked why they should be allowed to continue in their jobs.
Mr Overland expressed regret at the death of Mr Vangorp but defended the action he had taken over the officer’s behaviour. “I believed then and I believe now that that was the appropriate thing to do,” he said.
“How can a community have confidence in this organisation if we allow racist, sexist, pornographic, inappropriate material to circulate freely? We can’t do it,” he added.
The state police department has 13,800 employees, including police officers, public servants and security officers.