Concerns over NSW Police Commissioner telling officers they can ‘get it wrong’
The Aboriginal Legal Service has condemned a recent video wherein the NSW Police Commissioner pledges to not hold officers to account for wrongly applying public health orders.
The ALS has said they are deeply concerned by NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller’s assurance that officers who wrongly issue COVID-19 fines won’t be held to account. In a video issued to staff this week, Commissioner Fuller said that in an effort to prioritise health order enforcement, officers had permission to “get it wrong”.
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“I have said before, if you write a ticket, and you get it wrong, I understand, and I won’t hold you to account for that. We have to shape the behaviour of people to get out of lockdown, and I know all of us want to be out of lockdown by Christmas, so please take the challenge,” he said.
This news follows the death of yet another Aboriginal man in custody last month. Frank “Gud” Coleman, a 43-year-old Ngemba man, died on Thursday, 8 July at the Long Bay Correctional Complex after being found unresponsive. He was one of at least 478 Aboriginal people to die in prisons and police incidents since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.
The ALS has previously raised concerns in regard to the over-policing of Aboriginal communities and urged Aboriginal people to seek assistance in dealing with infringement notices.
Anthony Carter, deputy chief executive of the ALS, said that the legal body had previously cautioned against NSW Police using COVID-19 restrictions as an excuse to target Aboriginal people.
“When the message from the top is that police officers can ‘put community policing aside’ and won’t be held to account for getting it wrong, that just gives rogue officers free rein to harass members of our community,” he said.
“NSW Police currently have extraordinary powers of enforcement. Those powers need to be paired with increased oversight and accountability. Police must be held to the highest professional standards.
“Our community is being called upon to be accountable for following the COVID rules. It’s only right that police should also be accountable for applying those rules within the law.”
Furthermore, Mr Carter called for police to support and work with Aboriginal community-controlled organisations to ensure people have access to masks, hand sanitiser, COVID testing and vaccinations.
During last year’s COVID lockdown, police handed out the most fines in suburbs with a high Aboriginal population, including Mount Druitt, Blacktown and Redfern.
The ALS is urging Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in NSW and the ACT to come to them if they receive an infringement notice they believe to be unfair.
“We can offer legal advice to Aboriginal people who receive fines. We also want to monitor how many Aboriginal people are being approached by police and the circumstances of those interactions,” Mr Carter said.