Sticks and stones

By Legal Eagle

It’s pretty pathetic that Melbourne man Menachem Vorchheimer has had to engage in a two-year legal battle to get the Victoria Police to admit that the racial attack he suffered was inappropriate.

Almost 2 years ago, Mr Vorchheimer, an orthodox Jew, was walking down the street with his two children on the Sabbath when he was attacked by a bunch of drunken footballers going past in a bus. The bus was driven by an off-duty policeman. The footballers shouted out pro-Nazi comments, and snatched Mr Vorchheimer’s Shabbat hat and yarmulke. When he tried to retrieve the hat, he suffered a black eye.

Now Mr Vorchheimer has finally settled a case which he brought in VCAT against Victoria Police and the State Government. The Police have admitted that the off-duty policeman did not act in an appropriate manner and intervene to prevent the abuse occurring. They have also proposed to introduce further training of staff in relation to responding to such situations.

Sure, the driver of the bus was there in his private capacity. But being a policeman means that you are accorded with a certain trust. Like lawyers, teachers and others in a position of trust in society, you can’t divest yourself entirely of your responsibility to behave in an appropriate manner just because you are off-duty. The officer’s failure to act in such circumstances, even though he was off-duty, tarnishes the force. Using his authority and training as a police officer, he could have prevented the abuse occurring. I think it is fair to ask that the Police admit that the officer’s conduct was far from ideal, and it should not have taken two years to wring that concession from them. In fact, the whole saga has been a pretty sorry affair, as Mr Vorchheimer has had to campaign exhaustively to get apologies from all parties involved. It really shouldn’t be so hard to get people to say sorry for such despicable conduct.

20 Comments

  1. jc
    Posted August 21, 2008 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

    I don’t buy it LE. The guy was attacked in the most vile way and the bastards who did it should be locked up for a good while. However I really can’t see the connection with the police force here other than the creep worked for them and was off duty. In fact I think it’s silly to be asking for an apology from the force for this.

    Fire the bastard and hope the courts make extra effort in taking into account he’s a cop.

  2. Nanu
    Posted August 21, 2008 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

    What did or didn’t the off-duty cop do?

  3. jc
    Posted August 21, 2008 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

    oh really, So they kept him on? Really?

    Why didn’t they fire him?

  4. Nanu
    Posted August 21, 2008 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

    Regrettably, the Australian State police have never failed to disappoint me. During my eight years in London, I left with nothing but respect and admiration for the MET. I remember my first impression of the Victorian Police was a young group of four making their way down Southbank like they were something, you could sense their desire for a power trip.
    I reckon the cops need to do a year as ‘community’ police, walking the beat with nothing but a radio & baton. It would teach them people skills rather than what the gun/pepper spray probationary cops are learning at the moment.
    I’m sure most probationary cops start out with the best intentions but don’t receive the coaching from more experienced cops or general experience with dealing one on one with members of the community.

  5. John Hasenkam
    Posted August 21, 2008 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

    I’m sure most probationary cops start out with the best intentions but don’t receive the coaching from more experienced cops or general experience with dealing one on one with members of the community.

    Good point Nanu. What many don’t appreciate is that being a copper carries certain emotional risks. Consider what SL says about being smart in Aus and then x10 the effect for coppers. Also, coppers almost by definition are dealing with the those from the wrong side of the tracks and this must have an effect over time. I remember one copper friend once said to me: John I can walk down the main street of our suburb on a Saturday morning and point out the crims. We know who there are many we cannot arrest but there is bugger all we can do about that.”

  6. conrad
    Posted August 21, 2008 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

    “I’m sure most probationary cops start out with the best intentions but don’t receive the coaching from more experienced cops”

    I think the problem with this is that you are assuming the experienced cops are better than the younger ones. My perception is that the cops (at least in Melbourne) are far better these days than they used to be (they’re not shooting people anymore, for example). This may be because younger people simply have more liberal attitudes in some areas than older ones (especially to do with attitudes to obvious minorities). Given this, perhaps it’s the younger cops that could teacher the older ones a thing or two.

  7. Nanu
    Posted August 21, 2008 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

    I understand what you’re saying Conrad. I guess I should have added the caveat that the experience would have to be proven as beneficial before you’d be put in a position where you’d be teaching new cops.

    I got involved in an incident [a buck’s night] a few years ago, where I said to a couple of young probationers not to be impressed by the Snr. Constable in their company as he was a disgrace to the uniform given the way he was inciting mischief (to put it mildly) with his heavy handedness. Needless to say, he got really shitty about my comment. The Duty Sargent was listening in and interrupted saying to all present that I was right. I was actually taken back that he agreed so openly but that was probably a tactic to defuse the situation.

    Thinking back, although I was one of the more sober of the group, I did refer to him as “the small male member” 🙂 when I made the comment to the probationers, so I was no angel either! 😉

  8. Posted August 21, 2008 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

    Maybe I’m missing something, but the dilatory reaction from all parties in this case compared with the Catch the Fire case is also a bit disturbing.

    I’m surprised, too, that a bunch of country footy players even knew what an observant Jew looked like. Maybe it’s a Victorian thing – or they’d all just seen Schindler’s List. If I picked 20 rugby league players at random from one of the local Rocky clubs, I doubt any more than a couple would be able to identify the dress code. Curious.

  9. Nanu
    Posted August 21, 2008 at 7:39 pm | Permalink

    “I think with cops (as with lawyers) you get good ones and bad ones”

    Only difference is from what I’ve been told, that all to often the good ones leave and the bad ones stay!

  10. DeusExMacintosh
    Posted August 21, 2008 at 9:02 pm | Permalink

    I grew up in Queensland under a brown paper bag culture, so my standard for judging effective/ethical policing is pretty low.

  11. jc
    Posted August 21, 2008 at 10:02 pm | Permalink

    LE:

    My first comment arose from the fact THAT I actually assumed the cop had been fired and therefore considered a police force apology to be overkill. Silly me.

    I recall reading the story when it first came out and I thought the cop was gone for all money.

    Now I find he has a cushy type job “counselling” other cops why it isn’t a good idea to beat up Jews!!!!!!?

    Fme.

    The creep ought to be out on his ear.

  12. Nanu
    Posted August 21, 2008 at 11:26 pm | Permalink

    LE –

    I don’t think so as he had charge of his children at the time and approached a bus of young drunken men. He approached the bus because they were shouting out the window, what they were saying is beside the point. Only difference is that his stupidity by chance led to the exposure of a low life who happens to be a cop. Unfortunately, police ethics doesn’t amount to any action for passive behaviour when off duty, otherwise he would have been sacked. The victim should have just taken down the number of the vehicle and gone about his business and reported the racial abuse to the police later. This situation could have led to his kids not having a father because he wanted to defend some notion he had of his pride. His efforts could have been directed equally in making sure the cops found out who was driving and who was in the vehicle. Dumb, stupid..etc.

  13. TerjeP
    Posted August 22, 2008 at 1:06 am | Permalink

    I think JC was pretty spot on in comment 1.

    Like lawyers, teachers and others in a position of trust in society, you can’t divest yourself entirely of your responsibility to behave in an appropriate manner just because you are off-duty.

    Since when did society trust lawyers?

  14. pete m
    Posted August 22, 2008 at 6:31 am | Permalink

    TerjeP – I agree – no-one should be trusted to the extent you don’t check at times and look after yourself. Just last night a nurse bottle feeding my daughter was using breast milk when the doctor had ordered a certain formula only be used to see if she is allergic to breats milk – we were pretty astounded when we turned up and saw this. It likely means anoher night in hospital now to check what should be known today, but wont be now. Very frustrating!!

    People frequently ring me for second opinions on their lawyers’ actions, and i think that is the smart thing to do. If you feel something is not right, ASK someone else just in case.

    I still shake my head at people who give hundreds of thousands of dollars to lawyers to invest for them in some scheme or other and think a smart lawyer won’t lose them their money, only to be told the local casino was smarter!

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