Welcome to our first bi-weekly round up. As the rate of incoming reports continues to decrease on the website we will be moving our roundups of reports to fortnightly.
The alleged murder of George Floyd by four Minneapolis police officers on 25 May, has led to massive protests throughout the world and provoked a wide-spread and unprecedented debate about the role of policing and police practices in every jurisdiction and a renewed focus on the shocking toll of Aboriginal deaths in custody here in Australia.
Huge protests defy COVID restrictions
Black Lives Matter protests took place across the continent over the weekend with many tens of thousands of people coming out in large rallies, marches and gatherings that greatly exceeded current public health restrictions on outdoor gatherings in every state and territory. State governments, police and health authorities responded to the unprecedented protest events in varying ways.
In one of the first cases to consider the rights to protest under COVID public health restrictions, the NSW protest was initially deemed unlawful by the NSW Supreme Court on Friday 5 June 2020, and then that decision was successfully appealed on Saturday minutes before the protest was scheduled to take place.
NSW Police officers moved protesters into Central Station in Sydney where they deployed capsicum spray inside the station on the peaceful crowd in what organisers believe was an attempt to justify their “criticism of the march”. While police and governments criticised the public for attending the rallies and risking spreading the COVID-19 virus, they nonetheless pushed protesters into a confined space and deployed capsicum spray – which causes those affected to cough and have tears, mucus and saliva pour from eyes, noses and mouths.
Nearly 1,300 medical providers and public health experts in the United States have signed a petition this week calling for police across the US to stop using any chemical agents due to concerns that it would accelerate the spread of coronavirus
NSW police and government have warned that any future protests of more than 10 people will not be authorised by police unless it complies with public health orders.
Adelaide police provided an exemption to BLM protesters in an effort to facilitate people’s right to protest and to avoid confrontation arising out of the enforcement of public health orders.
Media reporting of the Victorian police position in the days leading up to the protest caused some confusion. Initial reports conveyed that Victoria Police would also be taking a ‘facilitative approach‘ and would not issue COVID-19 fines to attendees. However, this messaging changed and the day before the rally statements were made to media that protest organisers would be fined for breaching the gatherings restrictions and, although Victoria Police acknowledged that it would be impossible to fine thousand of people on the spot, organisors of the protest may receive fines in the coming days and weeks.
Summary of COVIDPOLICING reports
These past weeks we have received 8 new reports, all from Victoria accept one from the Northern Territory.
In the Northern Territory
One person wrote in after police spoke to them aggressively when requesting they sign papers to be able to cross the border. They reported feeling that there was a threat of menace and that they were not provided with the officers names and details when they requested them.
One person was involved in a protest action to halt native forest logging. After remaining alone in a trees sit for three-days they were brought down and issued a fine for breaching the stay at home restrictions.
Another, involved in protest activity at the Mantra Hotel in Preston where refugees and asylum seekers are being held, was repeatedly asked for their name and address despite police confirming that she “had a right to be” there and that they were only giving out a warning.
A group of university students were having a gathering of ten people at a park when police officer arrived. Most students scattered as the incident took place before gatherings of ten people were permitted. One student remained and although they did not receive a fine the police officers made a point of stating that the student was Aboriginal. In the hours after, police had managed to stop others of the group in the nearby streets and give them verbal warnings. While the other students reported being spoken too in a more aggressive manner, only the Aboriginal student was reported to the University by police.
Another person wrote in after they left their house with their son and nephew, who lives with them, to go to the supermarket. Although it was permissible at the time for people who live together to also travel in a vehicle together, Victoria Police officer stopped the family and issued fines to each person via the mail for having three people in a car.
Two young African-Australian males were stopped on the street and questioned for being outdoors. They were handcuffed and searched by Victoria Police officers. They received an infringement notice in the mail stating that they were ‘walking aimlessly’. The person reporting said it was clearly racial profiling.
Another person wrote in after they had met up with five friends in a restaurant car park – other groups of people were also using the space at the time to meet up with friends in an outdoor public space. They report that around 6 police cars and 15 officers came to the scene with pepper spray cannisters drawn. No fines were reportedly given and everyone was ordered to move on.
Lastly, a person wrote in to the site after they attended a “pro-choice vaccination” protest and police used “heavy handed and forceful” tactics to disperse those gathered. No COVID-19 fines were reportedly given.
The call for COVID Policing data
As reported in previous Round-ups, data analysed from releases by New South Wales Police indicated that discriminatory patterns of targeted policing that occurred prior to the pandemic continues in public health policing today.
This information was not released as statistics, but had to be extrapolated from daily police news updates. While comprehensive data on stops, fines and move-on orders remain secret we have reason to believe that particular communities continue to experience over-policing and disproportionate contact with police in the enforcement of the pandemic restrictions.
After requests by a parliamentary committee investigation, Victoria Police has finally released figures that around 5,604 people had been fined for coronavirus restriction breaches totalling over $8,000,000 in fines. Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton told the committee that of the 5,604 fines issued, 337 had been withdrawn or cancelled and 165 had been paid in full. So far, 437 businesses and individuals have requested their fines to be reviewed. Victoria Police also told the committee that 47,185 coronavirus spot checks had been made and 69,286 calls had been made by the public to the police hotline.
This week, Victoria Police finally released the location data for almost 6,000 fines issued for suspected breaches of the COVID-19 directions. Alarms have been raised that the data reveals possible discriminatory practices with as areas with higher migrant populations and public housing stock were among the most heavily enforced. The data also shows that there is little relationship between enforcement and the spread of the virus.
Leader of the Reason Party, Fiona Patten MP has called on Victoria Police to implement a racial profiling monitoring system – something Victoria Police committed to doing so three years ago. Patten highlights the possible continuance of discriminatory policing in enforcing the COVID-19 orders
“In NSW the Covid-19 fines disproportionately affected Aboriginal communities, in Victoria we have no public data on it – this is disastrous for police accountability”.Fiona Patten, Reason Party, Victoria
What is still missing from the Victorian and national data is the demographics of those stopped and the reasons for decisions to use or not use discretion
NATSILS, the national peak body for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services and a partner in this COVID POLICING site called for independent analysis of police stop data during the pandemic in its recent Submission to the Senate Select Committee on COVID-19
The submission stated that
an independent analysis of stop data is a critical part of this independent review process to determine whether COVID-19 related policing impacted upon certain demographics or communities disproportionately.– NATSILS
NATSILS also called for a comprehensive review of COVID-19 police responses, deployment and enforcement decisions in all states and territories.
The COVIDPolicing project is about to release an open letter calling on all state and federal police to release de-identified data on:
- The number of stops police have conducted under COVID-19 restrictions;
- The number of fines that have been issued under COVID-19 restrictions;
- Move on orders that have been given under COVID-19 restrictions;
- The postcode locations of these stops, fines and move-on orders;
- The demographics of people that have been stopped, fined or ordered to move-on; and
- The reasons officers have stated for their decision to stop, fine, or order a person to move-on.
In addition to addressing and preventing the misuse of power, the public has a right to expect and demand that all people are treated fairly and that police discretion will be used appropriately throughout this pandemic. The transparent analysis of police data is the only way to ensure this. For example, police in England and Wales provided data on police force numbers of infringements and demographic data on these fines.
This allowed UK-based non-profit investigative journalists at Liberty Investigates to find that people of colour were 54% more likely to be fined than white people in England.
Closer to home, New Zealand police have released their own statistical breakdown on policing of COVID-19 breaches. This has permitted the important reporting that Māori are over represented in policing breaches of New Zealand’s lockdown.
More to come.
in the news
6 million Australians are said to have downloaded the COVIDSafe tracking app. Travel bans remain in place preventing Australians from travelling overseas with no plans to lift them until the end of the year, at the earliest.
Australian citizens, permanent residents and their immediate family can travel to Australia but are still required to stay in mandatory quarantine for 14 days after arriving. All others wishing to travel to Australia will need to apply for an exemption based on a compassionate or compelling reason before travelling.
State border restrictions remain varied across the continent.
NSW has revoked the order that required people to have one of the state’s listed reasonable excuses to leave the home. However, NSW police has been criticised for not being aware of the state’s active coronavirus restrictions continuing to issue fines to people deemed by police not to have a reasonable excuse to leave the home.
NSW Police Commissioner Nick Fuller stated in a press conference that since March 1300 people had been issued with a $1,000 fine for breaching coronavirus restrictions – a total of $1,300,000 in fines.
A Coffs Harbour man has been sentenced a 15 month intensive corrections order, 200 hours community service and pay a $550 fine after he intentionally coughed on a police officer.
As of last week, Tasmania Police are now able to issue a $756 on-the-spot fine to people suspected of breaching the state’s coronavirus restrictions. Previously, police we able to issue a warning, summons a person to appear in court, or to arrest the person. Acting Deputy Commissioner Jonathan Higgins stated that since March 25 Tasmania Police had conducted over 13, 400 compliance checks across the state
Over 13 people were fined $1,000 each for breaching coronavirus restrictions in Whyalla Norrie after people were called to attend a noise complaint at the house. At the time the fines were issued, gathering of more than 10 people were prohibited in South Australia.
Four people were arrested in Adelaide for operating a massage parlour in breach of the coronavirus business closure requirements.
Police fined three people for breaching coronavirus directions after they were found camping at the Defence Training Area at Shoalwater Bay with around 14 other vehicles.
Legislation was introduced to enforce mandatory testing of anyone accused of coughing or spitting on a person in Queensland. This adds to the state’s existing penalty of a maximum $13,300 fine or 14 years in jail for anyone convicted of wilfully coughing, spitting, or sneezing at another person.
Victoria has revoked the “stay at home” direction and have put in place the “stay safe” direction. This means that Victorians no longer need to have one of the listed reasons for leaving their house but are still required to abide by limits on gatherings and physical distancing, among others.
Clive Palmer has instigated proceedings in the High Court to challenge the closure of Was borders due to the pandemic. Palmer has stated that he intends to argue that the border closure in unconstitutional. WA Premier Mark McGowan has said he supports the Police Commissioner’s decision that he “has clearly said to Mr Palmer that he can’t fly in and fly out because he’s not one of the exempt people.”
International COVID POLICING NEWS
New Zealand: Data has been released by NZ police that Māori people were more likely to be subjected to a police proceeding during the pandemic lockdown months than any other group. Despite their own data showing racial disparity in enforcement, NZ police Minister Stuart Nash said “I don’t think there is institutional racism in the police”
Spain: Marbella Police have bought 15 High-Tech Laser Pistols to enable police to inflict force on members of the public without having to go within 1.5 meters of them. The Professional Association of Social Work of Malaga has warned against the use of the weapons “with the sole purpose of neutralizing people who, due to their situation of living on the street or fragile circumstances, are seriously unprotected” and of the serious consequences of these weapons which “can cause serious injuries or irreparable damage to health.”
Hong Kong: Thousands of people rallied in Hong Kong despite social distancing rules to protest the announcement from Beijing to introduce new security legislation to the territory.
UK: A British political strategist is under scrutiny and possible police investigation from breaching the country’s coronavirus restrictions.
India: More than 60 police officers and prison staff have been quarantined after a person imprisoned at the Poojapura Special Sub Jail in Thiruvananthapuram tested positive for COVID-19.
Reports, online tools and events
Report: Change the Record, the national Aboriginal led justice coalition of Aboriginal peak bodies and non-Indigenous allies has released Critical Condition – the impact of Covid-19 policies, policing and prisons on First Nations communities
COVID-19 Law Monitor: new resource launched by the Grata Fund for journalists and civil society to track COVID-19 measures introduced by governments that impacts on civil liberties and freedoms.COVID-19 measures have been introduced, amended and rolled back rapidly across Australia making it difficult to keep track. COVID-19 Law Monitor will track the powers used to ease restrictions in different stages across Australian jurisdictions, or if a second wave of COVID transmission occurs, the introduction of new measures.
The website will track Commonwealth, state and territory measures that impact civil liberties including:
- New or amended legislation
- Determinations and orders.
- Use of emergency powers
Victoria Law week webinars and forums relating to CovidPolicing can be accessed on demand on these links below:
- Policing COVID-19 Restrictions – Your Rights During a Pandemic
- Public Health and Public Order: Emergency Powers and the COVID-19 Pandemic Response
- The Law and You: Human Rights & Discrimination
Covidpolicing.org.au is collaborative project is run by legal and human rights advocacy organisations, backed up by a network of policing academics around Australia.
Previous weekly round-ups can be found here.
These weekly round-ups are summaries only and do not necessarily represent the views of all project partners in entirety .
We thank all people who have taken the time to make a report and to all those who have contributed, supported, shared or promoted this project.
For more information about the project please see: https://covidpolicing.org.au/about/
If you would like to contact any of the partners in this project, you can reach us by e-mail at [email protected].