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Coroner calls for policing change after death in custody

Extract from Australian Broadcasting Corporation - ABC Online, on 8 April 2005

The Queensland coroner has called for the state's police service to be given control over Aboriginal community police to avoid future deaths in custody.

The recommendation was made yesterday after an inquest into the death of Desmond Mark Bowen two years ago.

Mr Bowen, 27, died in the back of a community police paddy wagon after being arrested during a domestic dispute at Hopevale.

Coroner Michael Barnes ruled he died of self-inflicted hanging and no-one should be charged over his death.

He said the three community police were justified in arresting a drunk and aggressive Bowen as he could have endangered others.

But none of the officers had received any training and did not know they should have removed his belt or monitored him on the trip to Cooktown.

The coroner said local Aboriginal councils do not have the resources to fund and train local police and the responsibility should be handed to the Queensland Police Service.

He said if training and resources were not improved, he could see similar deaths occurring in future.

Indigenous leader Terry O'Shane says if the officers were not adequately trained then the Queensland Government is responsible.

"I think there should be a formal apology by the State Government to the Bowen family and that restitution needs to be made in whatever form they want to pursue," he said.

"This is just criminal. I can't believe that a person can die in custody and a coroner can find, or the State Government can believe, that they can just walk away."

Police Minister Judy Spence says the issue of Aboriginal community police has been frustrating.

"The councils recruit and select these community police and then the police service trains them and gives them uniforms, and then the council might for example dismiss the community police officer a couple of months later, so you find a lot of wasted effort," she said.

"We're happy to look at the coroner's recommendations."

Ms Spence says she has asked the police Commissioner to report on the issue.

"I think that there are some serious issues with the community police," she said.

"I'm not necessarily going to take on the coroner's recommendation at this point in time but we will consider it and I think that we have to provide this service in a better fashion in the future."

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