THE POLICE FORCE AND RED TAPE
(FROM THE RIVERINA HERALD, APRIL 13)
Redtapeism was ever a prominent feature of the business of all departments of the Government service, and was more especially noticeable in matters immediately connected with the police force. This curse of redtape officialism has been spoken and written against times innumerably, but the result has been very similar to water showered upon a duck’s back, rather appreciated by the target than otherwise. We have now a very striking exemplification of the baneful effects of this circumlocution as practised in the police department, a rule as strictly adhered to by all connected with the constabulary as was the Mosaic law by the children of Israel. Late in the month of October, 1878, society was electrified by the announcement of a fearful tragedy for which they were quite unprepared, and which burst upon them with all the bewilderment of a volcanic eruption―namely, the murder of three troopers in the mountains near Mansfield. The harrowing details of the manner in which gallant Sergeant Kennedy and Constables Scanlan and Lonigan met their awful doom are too vividly remembered to require recapitulation. The first feeling of horror at the event having worn off, it was sanguinely anticipated that the capture and certain condemnation of the murderers to the gallows would be but the work of a few days, or weeks at most. The efficiency of the police force was referred to in glowing terms, and police authorities rather gloated over the opportunity to show the efficiency of the magnificent system of police management in vogue, an opportunity which for many years previously had been denied to them, and which it was believed would never again occur in Victoria. Indeed the bushranging days had become quite legendary and were shrouded in a mystery of romance, the “oldest inhabitant” who had actually come in contact with a bushranger being looked upon as a relic of a past age, and was lionised accordingly. The rude shock caused by the appearance of the Kelly gang effectually dispelled these Utopian theories, but still the theorists laid to their souls the flattering unction that the unfortunate and entirely unexpected tragedy had but furnished the occasion for a display of brilliancy, of strategy, and acumen, from our defenders. The result is only too well known. After an ostentatious search of over 18 months’ duration, and the expenditure of many thousands of pounds of the people’s money, we are now no nearer the capture than ever. In vain where the townships of the north-eastern and border districts garrisoned so as to resemble centres of a country under martial rule; in vain was the Murray river patrolled day and night on both sides; in vain were large rewards for the apprehension or death of members of the gang offered; and in vain were the hundred and one other devices of the police officials; and now the conviction has forced itself almost unwillingly upon most persons that this disastrous failure of the combined resources of all the police magnates of both colonies to effect the arrest of four ordinary backwoods larrikins is attributable chiefly to the rule of redtape always characteristic of the Government service. The police officials themselves being at a loss to account for the futility of their supposed efforts, have from time to time circulated happy little fictions to the effect that the troopers were possessed of such information as must lead to the capture of the ruffians. These romances have always proved groundless, the “information received” never having led to the certain riddance of the outlaws, nor even to their being seen. We believe that very few persons really attribute this resultless chase to either inefficiency or cowardice on the part of individual members of the police forces, mounted or foot. The North-Eastern Ensign, which certainly appears to be one of the best informed journals in the “Kelly country” on the bushranging topic, has recounted scores of instances in which the vigilance and activity of the troopers, when likely to bear fruit, has been utterly destroyed by the redtape regulations. It did not signify what was the urgency of the clue obtained by the police, they must report it to their sergeant, and he in his turn was forced to convey it to head-quarters; each of these transmissions caused delay, and each official required his leisure to ponder over the news, so that when action was ordered it was far too late to be of practical avail, and the police always found that their game had flown away, and that they were a day after the fair. Fully alive to the necessity of making an impression of decided action, the commissioner of police, accompanied by a small army of reporters, troopers, and civilians, would occasionally take a morning gallop over the ranges, awakening echoes sufficiently loud to give the Kellys timely notice of the approach of the cavalcade, and so avert what might have proved an awkward termination to a day’s outing for the supposed pursuers, whose actions, however, partook far more closely of the procedure of a hunting gathering or party on a pleasure bent. The farce was too rich and the accessories too expensive to allow the extravaganza to run for ever, so after a season of 18 months the drop curtain appears in the announcement that the rewards will be withdrawn three months hence; in other words, the game has been played out, and the three months’ grace represents the customary advertised “positively last appearance.” So much for redtapeism in Victoria. A pleasing change from Victorian failures and Victoria police regulations is furnished by the results of the police systems of New South Wales and South Australia. The Hatfield bushrangers, the Wantabadgery gang, and three or four ruffians of the Darling, Dubbo, and Bathurst district have been captured at the very outset of their career, frequently by a less number of police than the number of criminals. This has been accomplished by allowing the police a wise discretion, and scores of instances can be referred to in which the police have followed their quarry 100, 200, and even 500 miles without being required to report, and have thus successfully coped with cunning rascals. Severe maladies require severe remedies, and it is only by allowing the police to act with promptitude and energy that the bush-craft and skill of the Kellys can be successfully met. Our Saturday’s telegraphic advises from South Australia disclosed the fact that a trooper had ridden nearly 800 miles before overtaking a horsestealer. What a contrast is this to the Victorian troopers’ regulations. If he rode a tenth of the distance in pursuit of his man without reporting himself, it is more than probable that his occupation would be, like Othello’s―gone. It is only by giving more liberty to the police force that the gang of desperadoes (if they are really in Victoria, which is to be seriously doubted) can ever be taken.