Police officers who have military training are “more comfortable” using force than their counterparts without, the Northern Territory coroner has heard.
- Retired Commander David Proctor conducted the early coronial inquests into the shooting
- He said police with military backgrounds did not necessarily use force more often than those without
- The coroner heard Constable Zachary Rolfe’s 46 incidents of use of force were not “unusually high”
WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised that this article contains an image of a person who has died, used with the permission of their family.
Retired Commander David Proctor, who conducted the early coronial inquests into the police shooting of Kumanjayi Walker, told the coroner he believed police officers with a military background might be more comfortable using force while carrying out their duties.
However, he said his investigations did not indicate that the officers used force more often than their counterparts without military training.
“I think ex-ADF members are more comfortable with the use of force, perhaps than police officers who haven’t received that type of training. In terms of whether there are higher instances of use of force, from our [research] it was very difficult – I don’t think we’re saying whether it was significantly higher or not,” Mr Proctor said.
Constable Zachary Rolfe, who shot Mr Walker during an attempted arrest in 2019, served in the Australian Army for five years before joining the NT Police Force.
He was found not guilty earlier this year of any charges related to Mr Walker’s death.
Yuendumu Parumpurru Committee lawyer Conor O’Bryan told the inquest he expected he would eventually call on the coroner to find the specialist Immediate Response Team (IRT) – which was deployed to Yuendumu on the night Walker was shot – had the “look and feel”. by an undisciplined paramilitary unit”.
“I don’t know if I would say it was an undisciplined military unit, I would say it was perhaps undisciplined officers carrying military weapons,” Mr Proctor said.
“I think it was perhaps a consequence … of the systemic failures in supervisory management and compliance with the IRT’s policies and procedures.”
Number of incidents of use of force not ‘unusually high’
Coroner Elisabeth Armitage also heard Constable Rolfe was involved in 46 use-of-force incidents during his three years on Alice Springs general duties which police beat.
Of the 46 incidents, Constable Rolfe used police equipment – such as handcuffs, batons, OC spray, tasers or firearms – on 22 occasions.
None of the incidents proved to be excessive use of force.
Sir. Proctor told the inquest he did not think 46 was an “unusually high” number of incidents.
Constable Rolfe’s lawyer said the officer was not recorded in the “top 20” of NT Police officers who used force during the three-year period Constable Rolfe was based in Alice Springs, from 2016 to 2019.
“There is a member [in the top 20] which has nearly 100 uses of force captures … and that’s just related to the deployment of a piece of equipment,” said Luke Officer, for Constable Rolfe.
Audio recordings of investigative meetings ‘deleted’
Sir. Proctor also told the inquest that coronial investigators had sought audio recordings of Joint Management Committee (JMC) meetings by police officers working on the investigation.
While minutes of the meetings were provided, Mr Proctor – who attended some of the meetings – said the audio recordings were deleted.
“I think the practice was that once the minutes had been drawn up and signed off to everyone’s agreement, then the recordings would no longer be maintained,” Mr Proctor said.
“It is a practice recognized and accepted by the Company Director’s Course… [but] it was not my decision. It’s just an exercise [in] the organization.”
The investigation of Mr. Walker’s death has been running since the beginning of September and will continue next week until the final meetings of 2022.
It is currently scheduled to return for further hearings in early 2023, when Constable Rolfe is expected to be called to give evidence.
A Supreme Court trial which may affect Constable Rolfe’s evidence is expected to be delivered within fourteen days.