Policing biosecurity: police enforcement of special measures in New South Wales and Victoria during the COVID-19 pandemic


The first research paper using data from the national COVIDPolicing.org.au monitoring project has now published in Current Issues in Criminal Justice and will later be incorporated into a special issue on Covid-19 and criminal justice.

The authors, Louise Boon-Kuo, Alec Brodie, Jennifer Keene-McCann, Vicki Sentas, and Leanne Weber have examined policy documents, legal instruments, enforcement statistics obtained from media sources and through Government Information Public Access (NSW) requests, non-government and news reports and community members’ accounts of their experiences of police intervention published on the COVID policing website.

The article seeks to identify the potential impacts of COVID policing in relation to everyday street policing in NSW, the policing of public protests in NSW and Victoria and the intensive policing of nine public housing tower blocks prior to the comprehensive Melbourne lockdown.

The authors argue that public health is ‘securitised’ through the interaction between new COVID laws and powers, and existing police powers.

Whilst COVID laws seeks to promote public health, the policing of those laws has tended toward pre-emptive modes of police intervention characterised by the disruption of otherwise lawful activities “before the anticipated threat materialises” and selectively acting on already racialised communities.

The paper joins an emerging body of international COVID scholarship that examines the expansion and intensification of police power during the global pandemic which has highlighted how COVID emergency powers have resulted in the expansion of executive law-making, a reduction in scrutiny, the risk of authoritarianism and how policing practices may have superseded or undermined public health goals. Full article here.

The link to the article is Policing biosecurity: police enforcement of special measures in New South Wales and Victoria during the COVID-19 pandemic. One of its most damning findings – unsurprisingly – is the high search rate for COVID stops in NSW (45%) and the disproportionate rate for First Nations people stopped. In the article it finds this as a clear indicator that COVID policing has been conducted as an extension of everyday racialised policing. “We found COVID policing to provide opportunities for the intensification of longstanding and selective criminalisation processes, evident in the disproportionate focus on First Nations peoples in street policing and the high-visibility policing of racialised and socio-economically disadvantaged communities in public housing.”

This article also explores protest policing under COVID and the hard lockdown of the Flemington Noeth Melbourne public housing towers.

The larger COVIDPolicing report is nearing completion and should be out early in 2021.

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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