19th August 2021

Many a critical line has been published over recent, COVID months, not that far off years, of the sometimes alleged draconian or overreactions of Police when enforcing the Chief Health Officer’s edicts. The latest being the Government closing playgrounds, skate parks and basketball hoops and expecting Police to prosecute any breaches.

As former Chief Commissioner and Chair of the Community Advocacy Alliance Kel Glare has often said, “Police do not get to choose which laws they must enforce”.

The focus of the community disquiet has landed at the feet of Policing instead of the feet of the Government and the Chief Health Officer who are responsible, as we are daily reminded by the Premier, “I am following the health advice”.

Anger at the Premier seems futile, but the Chief Health Officer may not be so strident when the criticism starts to fall in large part his way.

The CAA understands and shares the community anger with the situation we continually find ourselves in, with rules that seem illogical and disproportionate to the risks.

It is reported that nine women per day die from Breast Cancer. That is over tree thousand a year. Still, no proportionate or disproportionate response has developed even when the risk factors of this disease are statistically magnified dramatically for approximately fifty per cent of the adult population. The risk of dying from COVID fades in comparison.

The stubborn refusal to place on the public record all the epidemiological data and the rationale behind what appears to be ludicrously inept decisions have justifiably contributed to community disquiet which is rapidly increasing.

We share the community frustration in being treated like imbeciles incapable of processing the data we seek to make informed views.

We have watched as the anti-Police sentiment has grown and been linked to the argument that Police failed because they have not exercised their discretion. That is arrant and complete rubbish.

Police do indeed have discretion enshrined in Common Law, but police discretion never would or should extend discretion not to enforce a law made by the elected Government. This is distinctly different from a Law that is unconstitutional or one that causes unlawful conduct if applied. The current shemozzle of Health Orders, sadly, do not fall into that category.

As with all these things, the incidents by Police that raise community angst are minuscule in number compared to the hundreds of thousands of police-public interactions related to this Pandemic.

We would argue that the police response has been appropriate and overall exercised with the proper amount of discretion. If people deliberately break the rules and get fined, they have no place bleating, and the media should not offer them succour. They decided to flout the rules, not the Police.

Nevertheless, Policing in this State has taken a severe blow to its overall credibility and trust bank with the community for doing its job.

The overall effectiveness of policing is directly proportionate to the credits in that trust bank.

Part of the post COVID recovery will be rebuilding the community trust with Policing as we fear the long-term effects will impact the efficacy of policing on a broader scale for a long time.

A series of glossy adds will not do it, there needs to be innovative initiatives that rebuild the bank credits, and the Chief Commissioner must start the planning process now.

We acknowledge that this would be particularly challenging with the current competing issues. But failure will consign Policing to an efficacy well below the pre-pandemic levels for years to come.

The current risk is that the negative impact of COVID on Policing would make the last twenty years of inept management fade into insignificance.

The CAA is already exploring initiatives targeting the Trust Bank that the Chief Commissioner may consider, and we are willing to work with VicPol to represent the community in the planning deliberations.

We have a history of accurately predicting major adverse social issues like the 2016 Crime Tsunami. We believe that tsunami will also fade into insignificance with what is ahead of us because of the damage wrought on our children. We will be faced with generational impacts of the like never before seen or imagined in our society.

We also fear the trends of self-harm, suicide and anti-social behaviour in young people is set to explode particularly obversley when and if our freedoms are returned.

The length of the imposts on our young will, or has become the norm for them, and freedom will be a scary place where self-confidence has evaporated.

We know that the younger people are, the more likely they live in the moment, which is not a negative but a fact, so when the freedoms return, they will not be adjusted to that new norm, and the outcome for many will be negative.

In effect, we have taken two years out of their development, and any parent will tell you that can be catastrophic for a young person. Imagine socially jumping from twelve to fourteen or sixteen to eighteen. Something that obviously escapes our leaders.

We call on the Government to ensure funding for the planning and implementation of initiatives geared to make the community feel safer in what will be a traumatic post COVID era of adjusting to what was once considered a normal life.

Victoria Police can play a pivotal role in this transition minimising risk factors to the young.

Having a safe community is an essential part of this State’s regrowth because, without a safe community, everything else in the recovery phase will be adversely constrained.