Policing and emergency powers in the COVID-19 recovery
The extraordinary powers enabled by the declaration of a state of emergency in Victoria and their enforcement by Victoria Police has been an area of intense scrutiny in recent months. Ensuring that policing upholds the rights of Victorians protected by the Charter will be essential in the period ahead.
Victoria Police officers have played an important role in enforcing the Chief Health Officer’s directions under the state of emergency in Victoria, first declared on 16 March. Importantly, the Charter has continued to operate during this period, requiring Victoria Police, as a public authority, to continue to fulfil its obligations to consider human rights in its decision-making and act compatibly with human rights. This includes, for example, when officers are determining whether to stop and question someone, or deciding to exercise discretion when issuing a warning or a fine.
In the first six months of the pandemic, we have been concerned about the risk that particular multicultural or multifaith groups, or other groups with particular vulnerabilities, may be disproportionately affected by policing during this period. There’s evidence that the distribution of fines across local government areas is not necessarily evenly spread, and that some areas that are home to the most disadvantaged communities have received proportionally more fines than wealthier areas.
We’re receiving reports of over-policing and disproportionate issuing of fines towards Aboriginal people and people experiencing homelessness. We’ve also heard concerns about the adequacy and efficiency of the review process for people who wish to contest a fine they’ve received.
More data is required to determine whether current practices have led to a disproportionate impact on vulnerable groups and how this can be mitigated.
Foundations for recovery
- Collect and share data necessary to understand whether fines are being issued disproportionately against people from particular racial backgrounds or in situations of vulnerability such as homelessness.
- Reset the approach to issuing and reviewing fines, ensuring discretion and oversight mechanisms are key elements.