Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site


Top cop confronts underbelly of corruption

  • 20 March 2008

When you think of what Easter is about, you don't think first of cops but of the people, like Jesus, they arrest. But in the lead-up to this Easter, I've been thinking of Victoria Police's Chief Commissioner, Christine Nixon.

Who'd take on the top cop job? Nixon has been having quite the time of it of late. Sure, she was always in a bit of a tight spot. She started on the beat in Sydney, and rose through the ranks to Assistant Commissioner in New South Wales. So she was something of an outsider when she was appointed to Victoria Police's top spot in 2001.

Since then she's faced (with considerable pizzazz and a certain indefatigable perseverance) some of Victoria's thorniest policing issues — from Melbourne's organised crime 'underbelly', to reforming the drug squad. But just recently she's hit a higher-order snag within her own organisation: alleged corruption and systematic undermining from very senior officers.

And it really hit the fan, and the papers. It was one of those 'damned if you do or don't' kind of dilemmas. As soon as she followed the protocol and stood people aside, outraged voices piped up that she must be incompetent if there's such alleged corruption within her ranks. But keeping things quiet would hardly be welcomed as a more appropriate response from a betrayed Chief Commissioner.

So what's Nixon actually done wrong? Hard to know, but in part it looks as if she was fast-tracked to unpopularity by trying to be a thoughtful, discerning leader. She's taken on some cultural change in Victoria Police, aimed at improving its effectiveness. And she's tried to do the whole thing with integrity. But the media coverage of bitterness from those she's locked horns with is testament to the danger of reforming a powerful institution.

To go against the grain inevitably means being held to a higher standard. Sometimes ludicrously so. Being bombarded with questions. Constantly watched for the slightest mistake. Some would argue that this is the fate of any woman in a powerful position, especially if she's in a male-dominated area.

It's hardly news that reformers are unpopular within the systems they undertake to improve. That's where the trials of Christine Nixon might throw light on the death of Jesus that is the core of Easter. It is easy to imagine Jesus died