12th of April 2022
There is undeniable community angst about the Police response to certain anti-Vax, anti-Mandate demonstrations in this State. Much of that anger is directed at Police Command and we do not intend to argue justification, because we believe there is none.
If this was one isolated case, then that is one thing, but this behaviour was exercised time and again over an extended period aggravating people into even more social unrest.
The complete antithesis of what good police strategies should be.
What concerns us is the failure of our system of Government.
Apart from the Police making operational command decisions that aggravated the whole issue we ask what the Police Minister, the Premier and the Emergency Cabinet were doing, not to intervene because they have accountability in this matter equal to the Police command.
It was their rules police were required to enforce.
The most effective Policing strategy for demonstrations is passive resistance, holding a line, not the guerrilla warfare approach where individual police are allowed to break away and make strategic lunges into the fray.
These ill-disciplined high-risk forays degrade the police to no better than the demonstrators and may well be just as unlawful.
This latter strategy, of which there is overwhelming evidence, places both the police and the demonstrators at huge risk of injury and is never likely to achieve the objectives, which to this day remains unclear.
We have never understood why the Police Association did not intervene over the risk to their members whose interests they should be representing.
Putting Police in situations with badly flawed strategies at such huge personal risk is unforgivable.
Apart from the overall strategy failures, there were specific failures within the morass of Command, that need to be highlighted.
The CAA understands that it was the Victoria Police Critical Incident Response Team (CIRT) who deployed ‘bean bag’ and ‘plastic baton’ (Rubber Bullets) munitions against crowds during the unauthorised COVID marches in Elizabeth Street and at the Shrine of Remembrance.
It has been reported to us that CIRT Police fired so many rounds at the Elizabeth Street incident that a car had to be despatched back to CIRT for resupply of ammunition. We have not confirmed this report.
We understand that CIRT makes a specific reference in its training that these weapons are not to be used in crowd control situations. Yet it is our understanding that both projectiles were indiscriminately deployed by CIRT against multiple targets during both incidents, contrary to both policy and training.
‘Bean bag’ rounds are shotgun projectiles fired from the Victoria Police Remington shotguns on issue to CIRT. Plastic ‘baton’ rounds (sometimes mistakenly called ‘rubber bullets’) are projectiles fired from 40mm grenade launchers. Both are usually used by specialist police, including CIRT, in the resolution of critical incidents such as Armed offenders, Terror or Hostage situations
These munitions are known as ‘less lethal’ because they are usually less likely to cause death than conventional ammunition fired from traditional police service weapons. Neither bean bag nor plastic baton rounds are considered totally ‘non-lethal’ as bean bag rounds have been known to penetrate targets causing wounding and death. This raises significant and serious questions as to whether their use at both Elizabeth Street and the Shrine constituted ‘reasonable force’ under the Crimes Act.
It is the CAA’s view that bean bag and plastic baton munitions should not be deployed for crowd control purposes. Both projectiles suffer from accuracy problems when used against moving targets or over distances greater than 15-20 metres. Both munitions can also cause very serious injury and, as seen overseas, lead to deaths if they strike vulnerable parts of the human anatomy. It follows that their use should be restricted to extremely limited circumstances.
The CAA acknowledges that these munitions are essential in certain high-risk situations against dangerous offenders. It is our view, however, that demonstrations and crowd control are not appropriate situations.
The CAA notes that demonstrators often use physical contact with Police as a technique to elicit an adverse response from Police to make their point and/or to gain media attention for their cause. That said, we fail to see why Force Command does not negate these actions (prevention) and reduce the risk of physical harm to Police and demonstrators by using proven tactics, like appropriate chemical agents and Water.
Euphemistically called, Water Cannons they should be procured urgenlty and deployed for these events as a matter of course.
Drenching people in an unlawful assembly will dampen the enthusiasm of all but the extremists bent on lawlessness, who can then be dealt with by the full force of the water.
It might be smart to acquire a couple of modified Bushmasters (locally built) that can have a dual purpose during the fire season making the deal cost-effective.
With water cannons, big is not always best, two midsized vehicles would give flexibility to commanders and the ability to interchange to maintain pressure while refilling.
A former Commissioner from another state has lamented that his police force had a Water Cannon, but it was never used.
Perhaps having it was the reason they never had to use it.