Queensland Police Commissioner Katarina Carroll on containing COVID, discontent in the ranks and tackling domestic violence

For Queensland’s top cop Katarina Carroll, the honeymoon period afforded to new leaders to settle in their new role evaporated with catastrophic natural disasters and a global pandemic.

It has been a tumultuous three years since July 2019 when she became the 20th Queensland Police Commissioner and the first woman to fill the role in the service’s 160-plus year history.

She also inherited a growing problem of youth crime, a recruiting scandal, and low morale.

The global pandemic placed an unprecedented demand on an already struggling Queensland Police Service (QPS).

An internal review ordered by Commissioner Carroll in her first six months found demand for service jumped 48 per cent, clearance rates were down by 7 per cent, and there were significant numbers of abandoned calls in the previous five years as the police dealt with more complex crimes and community social issues.

Katarina Carroll standing in front of a board of her achievements.
Commissioner Katarina Carroll says criticism of the police response to domestic violence hits her and her staff hard.(ABC News: Lucas Hill)

Her plans to shape the service around prevention and tackling serious and organised crime were temporarily shelved as the QPS jumped into the driver’s seat to help navigate the COVID-19 pandemic.

The pandemic also meant Commissioner Carroll had an internal battle over the mandatory staff-wide COVID-19 vaccine policy issued in September last year that has led to the Supreme Court.

She told the ABC that while the vaccine mandate had been a challenge and a difficult choice to make, it was done for the right reasons.

“My workplaces had to be safe, as well as making sure that we protected the community,” she said.

Queensland Police Commissioner Katarina Carroll and a young female police officer.
Commissioner Katarina Carroll congratulates a 2022 police academy graduate in Townsville. (Supplied: Queensland Police Service)

Discontent in the ranks ‘definitely hurts’

There is also other internal disharmony confronting Commissioner Carroll and her leadership.

Results from last year’s Working For Queensland survey included criticism of the “disconnect” between police ranks and the Commissioner and her executive.

There were also many who reported a lack of trust in the organisation’s leadership.

The survey feedback also raised the issue that the Commissioner had not fully delivered on her promises and communication in such an operational organisation was lost in the layers of ranks.

Police sources have told the ABC part of that disconnect came from the Commissioner sometimes not being fully informed of key issues confronting the QPS.

“The pandemic added a layer that was so complex and so difficult when you’re trying to do all of this other work, and then for two years a lot of your attention is to the pandemic,” Commissioner Carroll said.

Queensland Chief Health Officer John Gerrard speaks at COVID-19 update
Commissioner Carroll at a COVID-19 media conference with Queensland Chief Health Officer John Gerrard in 2021.(ABC News: Michael Lloyd)

“I cannot even think I have the right words to describe how incredibly challenging it was for the QPS … and then on top of that, trying to bring about change.

Police sources said the “disconnect” and lack of trust was part of tensions between Commissioner Carroll, her executive and some of her 330 commissioned officers.

Commissioned officers — ranks between inspector and chief superintendent — are a vital conduit between the brass and 12,000 rank-and-file, to help execute service delivery to the community.

Last week, to further build trust and confidence, the Commissioner and executive held a two-day conference to hear concerns of her senior leadership team, made up of around of 100 of her superintendents, chief superintendents and civilian executives.

‘My people mean the world to me’

Commissioner Carroll said candid discussions about trust and confidence, as well as future strategy, were held during the conference and she and her executive would now meet three times a year with their senior leadership to talk through challenges, issues and priorities.

“So they can see exactly what we’re doing, how we’re doing it, but also have a say in the strategy,” she said.

She will also visit every Queensland police district over the next few months to meet with all the officers in charge of stations.

Commissioner Carroll, known for her compassion, said it “definitely hurts” hearing of unhappiness in her ranks whose wellbeing and safety was of the utmost importance to her.

“My people mean the world to me … it’s the reason why we perform so well … because we have good people.”

Queensland Police Commissioner Katarina Carroll with anothe police officer and a dog.
Commissioner Katarina Carroll visits Cherbourg and its police station in 2022.(Supplied: Queensland Police Service)

Renewed focus on rising crime rates

Commissioner Carroll laughed off rumours that she wanted out and her recent UK trip for a counter-terrorism conference was really to interview for the Commissioner of Metropolitan Police — she said she was here to stay.

“I think you get up to a new day to new excitement, hoping that your organisation is making a change in the community,” she said.

As crime rates naturally start to rise post-pandemic, her top priorities are domestic violence, curbing youth crime, victimisation and the road toll, as well as increasing recruit numbers.

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