Covid Policing Bi-weekly round up #10

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As you may know, the COVIDpolicing website is a collaborative project but it’s updates are largely posted by volunteers. As restrictions tightened in Victoria and concerns mounted for a ‘second wave’, like everyone we, too, have been overwhelmed with managing life in the pandemic. However, the need has not gone unnoticed—especially in a second wave and in the waves yet to come—for holding the use of power to account.

This site remains the only dedicated and independent opportunity for Australians to report specifically on COVIDpolicing.

This roundup seeks to address the gap since our last post and set up our return to regular fortnightly updates. Special thanks goes out to Ed, Dylan, the Grata Fund and Melbourne Activist Legal Support for pulling this roundup together.

You may notice that our incoming reports and summaries of media reports are heavily skewed on Victoria. This is because Victoria has the strictest COVID-19 restrictions in place – meaning that we are not receiving many, if any, reports from the public outside of Victoria and there is comparatively less media reporting on police powers and enforcement in other states.

Think we have missed something or want to let us know what’s happening in your area? Wherever you live, you can bring something to our attention through our online reporting tool.

Summary of COVIDpolicing reports

All reports received have been from people in Victoria.

A person was stopped by police while driving 5km outside of their home to a place to exercise. They were accompanied by their housemate, and someone from another household. One of the police officers stated that he was not going to fine them. However, the other police officer came back and issued each of the individuals with a fine of $1,650.00, saying that there was no leniency despite what the other police officer had stated.

A young person wrote in after they and their partner both received fines after leaving the house to get takeaway food then going for a walk along the beach near their house. The writer reported feeling intimidated, wrong-done by and targeted by the officers.

Two parents with small children wrote in after they were out for walking in their regional Victorian town. They were approached by police who asked for their IDs. Knowing that there is no law in Victoria that requires people to carry IDs with them, the writer questioned the police on this. They were told by different officers that she should be carrying ID while walking and that they could have been fined as it was a ‘grey area’. The writer reported the police response to who queries as seeming annoyed, rude and dismissive.

Another person was stopped by PSOs for not wearing their face mask properly. Their details were taken down and they were advised that they might receive a fine in the mail.

A healthcare worker and their partner went for a night-time bike ride to get some air and clear their head after returning from a late shift. A police car drove up and along side them until their bike riders’ passage was blocked. The police officer remained in the car and did not turn the engine off – making it difficult for the writer who is partially deaf to hear what the officer was saying. The officer asked for their name and the write questioned why they wanted it. The writer reports that the officer said “you’re out at 3 in the morning – anyone gets stopped if they are out at this hour.” After providing their names and addresses the bike riders were allowed to continue on their way, however the police car drove past them two more times and they reported feeling frightened and upset.

One report was from a person who is a carer for their friend being treated for cancer. The friend had asked the reportee to go for a walk with her. The reportee was fined while on this walk for being too far from her home.

We received a report of a young person going for a run and bumping into a friend outside a service station on their way home. They stopped briefly for a chat, maintain social distancing, and both we fined by a passing officer.

One report was from a person who had left their house after having an argument with their partner and both people needed some space. On their return home they were stopped by police and later received a fine in the mail. Another report was also received from someone who has left home to escape violence and was fined for COVID related breaches.

One person was fined for driving to a park to go for a walk with their intimate partner although it was within 5km of their home and that the person has a disability which means they cannot walk to the park.

Another was fined for travelling outside the 5km radius to see their intimate partner despite this being allowed.

One person was fined for having two people in their home when they were not aware that the rules had changed and this was not allowed.

Parents were issued fines for breaching gathering restrictions after they allowed their childrens’ friends inside to get dry and wait for their parents to pick them up after getting wet in the rain.

A person was walking home from work without a mask and was approached by two police officers, who asked them where they were going and why they were not wearing a mask. They told the police officers that they were on their way home from work and forgot to put a mask on. One of the officers offered them a mask, which they put on. The person was also asked where their work was and how it was going, and whether they were coping with the pandemic situation. The person also received a spare mask from the officers.

Reports from media articles

A Parliamentary Inquiry has found that the three most disadvantaged local government areas received disproportionately more COVID-19 related fines. According to the Inquiry: ‘Residents in the Central Goldfields Shire and the cities of Greater Dandenong and Brimbank were handed a combined 529 fines by police over the first two months of restrictions, according to an interim report assessing the state government’s response to the pandemic.’

On 10 August 2020, a woman was choked by a Victoria Police officer for allegedly not wearing a mask. The video depicts a male officer holding the woman by the throat and then maneuvering her the ground and sitting on her torso. The woman was arrested for not wearing a mask and for failing to provide identification.

On 3 September 2020, an indigenous man was racially abused, assaulted and tackled whilst riding his bike to work at 5.30am. Police say the man failed to stop when asked for a permit check.

Additionally, other reports of harsh police enforcement include a heavily pregnant woman being told she was not allowed to rest during her hour of exercise.

A person with cerebral palsy was ordered by Victoria Police to ‘move on’ after seeking to rest at a park bench. Unfortunately reports of people with illnesses or physical disabilities being fined or ordered to move on for taking a rest while walking is not new to our site or our project partners.

Early in September 2020, Police CCTV mobile surveillance units have been spotted in locations across Melbourne. One mobile surveillance unit was spotted in Prahan. For further discussion about mobile surveillance see link.

On 13 September 2020, a man experiencing a mental health episode was arrested and significantly injured by police. Videos posted on social media show police knocking him down with their vehicle and stomping on the man’s head. The man was hospitalised and was in a coma for approximately 19 hours. It is unclear whether COVID-19 breaches were a reason for being approached by police in the first instance.

Also on 13 September 2020, a video shows a Wallan woman being dragged from her car after allegedly refusing to provide her details to the Police. She was charged amongst other things for assaulting the police and resisting arrest. For more details about the incident see link.

In Victoria

Change in Restrictions

From 19 July 2020, the Victorian Government extended the State of Emergency until 2 September 2020, and on 20 July 2020, re-introduced Stage 3 Stay at Home Directions for Metropolitan Melbourne and Mitchell Shire – due to growing numbers of COVID-19 cases.

On 23 July 2020, face coverings were made mandatory for all persons living in Metro Melbourne and Mitchell Shire. On 30 July 2020, the requirement to wear a face covering was made mandatory for all of Victoria.

From August 2020, Metropolitan Melbourne has been in a tough Stage 4 lockdown. These Stage 4 restrictions began on Sunday the 2 August 2020 with a ‘State of Disaster’ being declared and a mandatory 8pm-5am curfew with only 4 exemptions to leave your residence. Residents had to remain within 5km of their homes for exercising and shopping, with public outings with a maximum of 2 and only one person per household shopping per day. Partners in relationship were able to visit each other at their homes however residents were exempted from this leaving many singles feeling alone and isolated due to lack of social contact. Exercise was capped at 1 hour per day and within 5km of residence. Victoria Police were given more powers to enforce public health directions, especially for those who were not self-isolating.

A ‘State of Disaster’ was declared under the Emergency Management Act 1986 (Vic). This is only the second time the emergency powers under this Act have been invoked, following their use during the January 2020 bushfires. The declaration gives the Minister for Police responsibility for directing and coordinating the activities of all government agencies. The Minister’s directions prevail over anything contrary to state laws. This includes the power to suspend the operation of part or the whole of any Victorian Act or legislative instrument.

Along with these restrictions, Stage 4 came with changes to previously ‘essential’ work places. Certain industries that were previously deemed essential now forced to shut or scale back to 60% production. Retail stores such as Kmart and Officeworks were forced to shut and made to move to click and collect or delivery only whilst Industries such as meat production were to operate at 80% capacity, however this varied from industry to industry. Restaurants and cafés were still subject to take away restrictions whilst the whole beauty industry remained closed with hairdressers and dog groomers forced to shut.

On 6 September, Andrews announced an extension of the Stage 4 lock down and on 13 of September the curfew to changed to 9pm-5am.

On 12 September 2020, Daniel Andrews announced a ‘Road Map’ for Melbourne and Regional Victoria’s transition out of Stage 3 and Stage 4 Restrictions.

On 26 September 2020, Jenny Mikakos, Health Minister, resigned after being singled out by Daniel Andrews during Victorian COVID-19 inquiry as responsible for private security firm decision.

On 27 September 2020, Daniel Andrews announces slight easing of restrictions. The changes that took place from 11:59pm on 27 September notably included:

  • The lifting of the curfew from 5am on Monday 28 September
  • The introduction of a fine amounting to $5,000 for unlawful indoor or outdoor gatherings.
  • People will now be required to wear a fitted facemask, which covers both the mouth and nose. Bandannas and scarves will no longer be allowed – nor will face shields by themselves.
  • All primary school, VCE/VCAL and specialist school students returning to face-to-face learning from 12 October;
  • elective surgery to return to 75 per cent of its pre-pandemic level

This announcement also a promised another review of restrictions on the 19/10 instead of 28/10 as previously outlined by the roadmap. More information on the road map is here.

However, people are still only permitted to exercise and remain within 5km of their home for a 2-hour period. This exercise rule has somewhat extended to now include exercising within 5km of an individual’s place of work. People wishing to do this however must carry their workers permit with them.

Policing of Protest

For COVIDpolicing partner Melbourne Activist Legal’s statement on the compatibility of public health and protest see here. For further discussion of COVID-safe protest see here.

On 2 September 2020, a pregnant woman was arrested in her home in Ballarat. The Police charged the woman with incitement for organising an anti-lockdown protest on Facebook. This resulted in widespread condemnation of Victoria Police as the woman was arrested in front of her children.

On 5 September 2020, anti-lockdown protesters held a ‘Freedom Day’ protest in Melbourne and across Australia. Hundreds of protesters gathered at the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne and walked to Albert Park Lake. According to the ABC, a Police Statement said that Victoria Police officers arrested 17 people, including one person who was arrested for assaulting a police officer, and 160 fines were issued for breach of directions.

On 12 and 13 September 2020, anti-lockdown protesters held further ‘Freedom Marches’ on Saturday and Sunday at Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne. On Sunday, the protesters were met with a heavy police presence, including riot police and mounted police. According to the ABC, scuffles broke out as arrests were made and a police officer was filmed placing their knee near the neck of one demonstrator as other officers handcuffed him. On Saturday, Victoria Police arrested 14 people and issued 50 fines and on Sunday, 74 people were arrested and 176 fined. Videos and images show Victoria Police surrounding/encircling protesters near Queen Victoria Market and chasing protesters.

On 19 September 2020, approximately 100 anti-lockdown protesters held a protest at the State Library in Melbourne and then later moved to a park in Elwood. The protesters marched along the road and were dispersed by mounted police. According to the ABC, 16 protesters were arrested for breaching directions.

Concern over policing

Following the introduction of Stage 4 Restrictions in Melbourne, data revealed on 3 September 2020, shows that from 4 August 2020, Victoria police have issued 1,762 fines for people being outside their homes between the hours of 8:00pm and 5:00am.

An article from the Guardian on 28 September found that Aboriginal and Sudanese people were overrepresented in the fines received in Victoria during its first lockdown period from March to June. 

Currently, the Victorian Upper House of Parliament is debating a proposed new bill (the Omnibus (Emergency Measures) Bill 2020) to increase police powers, which provides more government employees with the power to enforce public health directions and to arrest people for breaching restrictions. According to the Guardian, this includes broader powers to detain people who refuse to self-isolate.

The proposed law also originally contained provisions that authorise preemptive detention for people who are ‘likely to refuse or fail to comply with the direction’. On 24 September, Human Rights Watch condemned the measures taken by the Victorian Police Force during the lockdown and stated that the proposed COVID-19 Omnibus (Emergency Measures) and Other Acts Amendment Bill 2020 to further increase police powers should be rejected. An amended omnibus bill will be introduced to the upper house next week. Importantly, the preemptive detention provision was removed which would have allowed for authorised officers to detain people on the basis of suspicion.For more information, see here.

Recently, a group of retired judges, barristers and the Victorian Bar wrote two letters to the Andrews government about their concern about the proposed laws curtailment of human rights, specifically in relation to the extension of arbitrary detention powers.

Concerningly, some prisoners have been forced to be in their cell for 24 hours a day prompting grants of ‘emergency management days’ allowing eligible prisoners to have days taken off their prison sentence: for each day a prisoner is under harsh lock-down restrictions, one day will come off their sentence, creating a combined total of 487 years taken off due to the harsh prison lock down restrictions.

In New South Wales

Change in Restrictions

On 25 August 2020, NSW Parliament updated the Public Health (COVID-19 Restrictions on Gathering and Movement) Order (No 4) 2020. This Restriction contains a direction that people cannot gather outdoors in groups exceeding 20 people.

On 24 September, the easing of a number of restrictions was announced. These included changes relating to schools, sport and recreation, and weddings. Most notably, more than one parent may attend a community sporting activity if physical distancing can be maintained between people that are not from the same household. Outlines of additional changes can be found here.

Concern overpolicing

It was reported on 27 September by the Sydney Morning Herald that, ‘(y)oung men from poor suburbs and towns with high Aboriginal or immigrant populations were more likely to be fined for breaking the lockdown rules designed to fight the COVID-19 pandemic’. This was found in light of the details obtained by the Sun-Herald of the 1427 fines and charges that were issued for breaking the public health order from 17 March to 28 June in NSW.

Policing Protest

On 28 July 2020, Black Lives Matter (BLM) protesters held a march at Sydney’s Domain. NSW Police told the protesters to disperse and six protesters were arrested, including an organiser. The rally was ruled as unlawful and upheld on appeal by the Supreme Court for breaching public health directions.

On 5 September 2020, anti-lockdown protesters held solidarity actions for Melbourne’s Freedom Day march. Protesters gathered at Olympic, Cathy Freeman Park and Hyde Park, and were met by mounted police. According to the ABC, approximately 5 people were arrested and 76 people were issued with fines (in total).

On 16 September 2020, students at University of Sydney staged a protest in response to job and funding cuts, and course increases. The students were physically distanced. The protest was found to be unlawful for exceeding the maximum number of 20 in a group – on the basis that that the protesters had a ‘common purpose’. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, student observers estimated that 10 to 15 students were each fined $1000 for public order offences and one was arrested.

On 23 September 2020, approximately 200 students and staff at the University of Sydney protested over cuts to funding and course hikes. The protest involved ‘teach-in’, sit-ins and a march across Sydney’s CBD. Again, this was deemed an unlawful gathering as the numbers exceeded 20 people. Despite being socially distanced, the protesters were chased by riot and mounted police. According to the SMH, Police issued 21 penalty infringement notices following the protest, fining the students $1000 each.

In Queensland

On September 11, one person was denied permission from hotel quarantine to go to her father’s funeral in Queensland. They had come from Canberra where there had been no new cases of Coronavirus for 61 days. After repeated appeals, they were allowed to see their father’s body. They were to be dressed head to toe in full PPE and was to be isolated from others who attended the funeral. The morning of the funereal, Prime minister Scott Morrison called Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk pleading with her to grant an exemption and to discuss Queensland’s tough boarder restrictions. However, Palaszczuk responded to the Prime minister that she would not tolerate this bullying from him.

On 25 September 2020, the ACT was no longer considered a COVID-19 hotspot, which means that travelers arriving from the ACT are no longer required to quarantine when arriving. From 1 October, a number of changes to restrictions in Queensland took place. Notably, one person per two square meters is allowed in an outdoor public space. In addition, the Queensland-NSW border bubble was extended to include Byron Bay, Lismore, Richmond Valley, Glen Innes and Ballina local government areas.

On 28 September, three women faced court having been accused of fraud and providing a false or misleading border document in July. Three men from Logan also faced court accused of falsifying border documents around the same time. The charge for fraud carries a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment, and the provision of false or misleading documents has a maximum fine of $13,345. The matters are due to return to the courts mid-to-late October.

In South Australia

From 24 September, residents travelling from New South Wales were allowed to enter the state without having to undergo quarantine – provided they have not visited Victoria within the 14 days prior to their arrival. On 7 October, the buffer zone with Victoria was extended from 40 kilometers to 70 kilometers.

In the Northern Territory

From 9 October, travelers from Greater Sydney will no longer need to undertake a 14-day supervised quarantine, provided case numbers in Sydney remain low.

In Tasmania

The Tasmania Government has stated that it will consider easing border restrictions by the end of October.

In Western Australia

Strict border restrictions remain in place. A man from South Australia received a $7,500 fine and was fitted with an electronic monitoring device on 26 September after entering the state without having received an exemption. When security powers were first expanded in Western Australia, civil liberties groups expressed concern that such powers would remain in place once the emergency was over. 

In the Australian Capital Territory

Restrictions are continuing to ease in the ACT. From October 9 the Act moves to Stage 3 (step 3.2) allowing:

  • Up to 200 people gatherings;
  • Hospitality venues with 100-200 sqm can have up to 50 customers;
  • Cinemas open to 50% capacity; and
  • Large venues with permanent seating can open to a 50% capacity (not exceeding 1,000 people).
Have you been stopped by police or had any interaction with police regarding COVID?

This collaborative project aims to document incidents, reports, and examples from members of the public concerning COVID-19 policing, for use in monitoring and reporting, as well as legal advocacy and accountability. It is run by a group of legal and human rights advocacy organisations, backed up by a network of policing academics with a coordinator in each state.
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