Policing The Pandemic

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Police Accountability Project, 30 March, 2020.

As Victoria escalates its crisis response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Victoria Police must ensure its responses are aligned to the current circumstances and do not infringe upon the health, human rights and dignity of Victorian residents and visitors.

There is urgent need to reduce the number of people coming into contact with the criminal legal system during this unprecedented public health emergency.

The continued expansion of law enforcement authority, no matter how justified by circumstances, can expand the opportunities for abuse and lead to the violation of rights, particularly those of communities who are already experiencing a disproportionately high level of discriminatory police interaction.

This is a difficult time for many across our state. The most vulnerable among us include those without permanent housing, living in cramped conditions or with limited access to healthcare, workers who have lost income and have been laid off, children and young people whose education and daily lives have been disrupted, elders and people with disabilities, those who have already faced coronavirus-related discrimination and all of those who cannot afford to self-isolate.

People may be in public space for reasons that are not immediately obvious to police, such as the need to remove themselves from cramped conditions, from a family violence situation or the lack of a secure home in which to self-isolate.

In this context, the 500 Victoria Police members involved in Operation Sentinel have been tasked with policing of breaches of mass-gathering restrictions or self-isolation orders. Using powers under the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008, this taskforce can detain or restrict the movement of a person or group in the emergency area in order to eliminate or reduce a serious risk to public health.

Self-isolation and social-distancing measures that have been enacted by the Victorian Chief Health Officer and the government, including restrictions on mass gatherings are vitally important and have wide community support. Their importance is not disputed. However, the way these unprecedented restrictions are and will be enforced is also vitally important.

Whilst the policing of curfews and restrictions may seem justified, they can still be applied in a discriminatory, abusive and harmful manner.

It is vital that the enforcement of vital public health measures does not increase unlawful or discriminatory or unnecessary police interactions, especially toward Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, people who are homeless and in shelters, public housing residents, children in residential care, people with disabilities and communities of colour.

As a community we are all invested in comprehensive crisis management that increases our capacity to care for each other as fellow human beings.  It would be hugely problematic if police enforcement activities further compromise the health and dignity of Victorians during this period.

According to Victoria Police human rights, equity and diversity standards, any limitations upon our human rights that can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society must be based on human dignity, equality and freedom, and take into account all relevant factors.

We therefore urge Victoria Police to immediately adopt the recommendations we outline below to decrease the likelihood of abusive or discriminatory policing during this extraordinary public health emergency.

Read the full Statement here…

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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