It seems that everyone wants to impress our beloved footballers. Sadly, it's not just members of the Hell's Angels Motorcycle Club that believe a little gunplay will win the footy stars over: now it seems Victoria's police are using this same tried and true technique to suck up to their sporting heroes.
To say that Victoria Police enjoys a cosy relationship with AFL players is an understatement. It's not just the frequent and regular contact that police have with players in a professional capacity - it's the common interests and shared locker room cultures that gives police and footballers a special bond. Not to mention what they can do for each other.
Police are very accommodating of players. They will roar through traffic with lights and sirens to deliver a footballer (Saverio Rocca) to his son's birth - and then clumsily try to cover it up. This isn't an isolated incident - police are more than happy to ferry drunken footballers like David Johnson around in their own personal taxi service. Presumably, they get a buzz from having a player in the back seat. Police will also use "discretion" liberally when dealing with their favoured sons.
Sometimes, this cosiness crosses the line of decency, such as in the Heath Culpitt "missing rape evidence" scandal at Crown Casino. Victoria's top detective, Simon Overland, freshly imported from NSW, was clearly aghast at the favouritism displayed by local police to even the most obscure and talentless footballer:
Mr Overland admitted that while most police were not reluctant to investigate famous people, he could not discount the possibility that some officers "wouldn't be intimidated or wouldn't have other reasons for perhaps not pursuing allegations against high-profile people as vigorously as they might". (The Age, 10/02/05)
There have been other cases where footballer-friendly cops have "bulldozed" sex crime investigations, infuriating other police. Lord knows what other incidents have been mishandled, buried or simply not raised with police. After all, if the top detective has no confidence in his detectives, why should a rape or bashing victim?
Of course, all this cosiness takes on a far more sinister edge in light of the ongoing gangland violence and police corruption investigations in Victoria (eg Purana). It looks likely that corrupt police were involved in some of the killings. Certainly, corrupt police have been jailed for drug activities. Others have resigned under a cloud. Links between police and underworld figures are aired and - very gently - probed by the media. And let's not forget the extensive links between underworld figures and certain footballers (*cough* Ben Cousins *cough* Michael Gardiner *cough*).
Against this back drop of cosiness, special favours and corruption, we remember that Collingwood's Alan Didak formed a special bond with drug-dealing Hell's Angel Chris Hudson (now facing murder and firearms charges). This culminated in the so-called "Hell Ride" where Didak was taken from city stripclub Spearmint Rhino (where he was hanging out with footballers like Colin Syliva) to hang out at the Hell's Angels Melbourne chapter's fortress-compound in an outer-suburban industrial estate.
While it was never clear exactly who was trying to impress whom, it's clear that a mutual interest in speed played a role in the ugly courtship. Strippers too. And guns. Shots at the bar were (allegedly) followed by shots fired out of the car as they crossed the Bolte Bridge. More shots were (allegedly) fired later at a police car attempting to intercept the vehicle. While Didak was keeping quiet, the firing of guns in close proximity clearly left an impression on him. Sadly, just a few days later, Hudson went off the deep end and (allegedly) beat up one stripper, killed another stripper and a passer-by who tried to help her, and wounded another brave interloper.
How insensitive then, for Victoria's police to invite Alan Didak and the rest of the Collingwood Football Club to come down to their heavily-fortified suburban compound and blaze away with guns. Presumably miffed at being upstaged by the underworld, Victoria Police thought they could up the ante a little and woo the footballers back by letting footballers loose on the firing range:
A spokesman for the office confirmed last night that a complaint about members of an AFL club was being examined.
The complaint alleges that those involved falsely signed affidavits that they were intending to join a gun club - a condition of entry to the rifle range at the Victoria Police academy at Glen Waverley.
Channel Nine last night named Collingwood as the club involved. It was also reported last night that retiring captain Nathan Buckley and coach Mick Malthouse were among those who attended the range. (The Age, 11/10/2007)
The Office of Police Integrity - widely panned as a comparatively toothless tiger and enduring constant restructuring - will be looking into the matter. Falsifying an affidavit is a serious offence. Of more concern is the lapse in judgement by senior figures within Collingwood and the police. Why on Earth would police think that inviting the boys from a footy club down to shoot guns on their firing range would be an appropriate use of taxpayer resources? Let's face it: over the next few years the Collingwood Football Club is likely to remain an important source of work for the police. Is it appropriate that they socialise like this? And - as with underworld relationships - just who is doing the impressing here?
The OPI will also examine if people who fire weapons, even under supervision, require shooting licences.
The Herald Sun said the visit was approved by “very senior” police.
Magpies CEO Gary Pert confirmed players visited the shooting range at the police academy in Glen Waverley as part of a leadership program with the force. (Herald-Sun, 11/10/2007)
Oh dear. It seems this wasn't a bonding day for the Magpies, but a reward for senior police. I am ashamed that the police force that is meant "to uphold the right" is prostituting itself by enticing footballers - many of them with underworld contacts and criminal histories - with the prospect of gunplay. Our police are so desperate to bathe in the reflected glory of their teenaged heroes that they offer up their firing range as a lure, determined to outbid the bikie gangs.
At the very least, there's a prima facie case that our police have a) too much money b) not enough nous about how to spend it. Remember, this wasn't a spontaneous act of stupidity by 21 year-old cops and footballers; this was sanctioned at the highest level of both organisations and displays a disregard by senior police for the resources entrusted to them and concern for their judgement involving community sensitivities.
That young police recruits should be exposed to the wink-wink culture of protecting feted AFL sporting stars is disappointing. That police and Collingwood would overlook the club's connection to a shooting incident that horrified the nation is puzzling. That our police - well-paid and resourced as they are - should resort to gunplay to fawn over and pander to footballers is, sadly, entirely in keeping with this town's social hierarchy.
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