Subject: Australia's international police group perceived as "cashed-up cowboys"

Federal police's crack squad perceived as 'just cashed-up cowboys'

The Australian

Paul Maley | January 16, 2009

THE crack squad of Australian Federal Police charged with bringing order to the nation's frequently unruly Pacific neighbours has a major image problem, with the rest of the AFP regarding the squad as arrogant cashed-up cowboys with no regard for proper procedure.

An independent audit commissioned by the AFP into the rapid growth of the International Deployment Group has suggested a potentially damaging cultural rift has emerged between the IDG and the rest of the force.

The report, by auditing firm KPMG, was obtained by The Australian under the freedom of information laws.

It identified perceptions within the AFP that the IDG was overfunded, unaccountable and staffed by "cowboys" who had a tendency to bypass the rules when it suited them. The report found those perceptions -- many of which were false or unfair -- had the potential to inhibit effective working relations between the group and other arms of the AFP.

"Rightly or wrongly, the IDG currently has perception issues which will need to be proactively managed," the report says.

The IDG was established in February 2004 to manage Australia's growing offshore policing functions.

According to the AFP, the deployment group has 1068 full-time staff, a figure just shy of the Howard government's target of 1200 permanent staff by July 2008. It comprises a mix of sworn federal agents, protective service officers, seconded state police and civilian staff.

The report found that to date the IDG had relied heavily on seconded state and territory police, an arrangement the group considered unsustainable over the long term.

Since its inception, the IDG has evolved and expanded significantly, deploying in often high-risk environments such as Solomon Islands, East Timor and Afghanistan. It has become one of Australia's most valuable assets in ensuring regional stability and enhancing the policing capacity of Pacific neighbours.

The group is currently involved in regional and bilateral missions in Solomon Islands, East Timor, Afghanistan, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, Nauru, Cambodia and Tonga, the AFP said in its report yesterday.

According to the AFP's 2008-09 annual report, the IDG had a budget of $264 million for 2008-09, the largest budget allocation for any section of the force.

The report found the unique operational environment the IDG worked in -- it must often deploy quickly in response to regional flare-ups -- had contributed to its tendency to circumvent procedures. The report does not say IDG officers behaved improperly towards the foreign nationals they were policing, and says that in the main the IDG adheres to AFP values and guidelines. "It has, however, evidenced a tendency at times to push through or go around what it sometimes considers outdated policies and procedures, and do things itself."

Part of the problem was that the IDG was a relatively new arm of the AFP and had not always received the proper level of support from other parts of the organisation, the report notes.

"Nonetheless, while the IDG's current approach may be necessary in certain situations, it is not a sustainable strategy for the IDG in a more mature phase of operations," it says.

The IDG is seen as "blokey", with a military style and approach, the report says.

Furthermore, while its senior officers enjoyed good relations with the rest of the AFP, its middle managers and junior staff often did not. "There are a number of experienced and forceful personalities in the management team who are making a significant impact on the IDG sub-culture," the report says.

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