Police to drop most COVID-19 fines and hand out cautions

Wayne Gut, secretary of the Victorian Police, said the decision heightened tensions within the unit after months of police taking measures against the less popular COVID.

The man will be fined in Melbourne on August Trainer

“Our members were asked by the government to do a thankful job, and they did it,” he said.

“If a criminal forms the view from this experience that penalties are, of course, easily translated into warnings and diversions, it sends a message of concern. We encourage civil disobedience. Instead, I would like to encourage intentional compliance. “

Police Union Secretary Wayne Gut.

Police Union Secretary Wayne South

The decision is expected to infuriate those who have already paid fines, which were only 845 by October last year.

Michael O’Reilly, a fairfield man who paid a $ 1652 fine for violating public health guidelines, said the new policy helped highlight the government’s inconsistent approach.

He said police became more generous after playing a “hardball” in a protest that took place outside the Mantra Hotel in Preston last April. Dozens of other protesters were also fined.

By October last year, more than 19,000 penalty notices had been issued, according to the latest data from Fines Victoria. Of these, 18% had reached the “final demand notification” stage, and an additional 3455 were registered with Fines Victoria for enforcement action.

Michael O'Reilly was fined for participating in a refugee liberation protest at the Mantra Hotel in Preston.

Michael O’Reilly was fined for participating in a refugee liberation protest at the Mantra Hotel in Preston.

The new guidelines, created by the military legal department and distributed by internal email on December 17, encourage police prosecutors and police officers involved in the disputed case to take the most generous approach.

“The guide has three tiers, and informants / prosecutors should continue with the lowest tier options, unless inappropriate,” said the email.

Accusations can only be filed against Tier 3 classified persons who have shown “repeated, intentional or continuous violations of Chief Health Officer’s instructions” or those infected with COVID-19 who refused to quarantine. It is done.

The guidelines represent a major flip side of the enforcement measures taken by the Andrews government and the Victorian police, which previously took a tough approach and fined thousands after the state of emergency was declared in March.

Victorian police fine protesters.

Victorian police fine protesters.

People were fined $ 200 for not wearing face masks in public and up to $ 1652 for most curfew violations. A $ 4,957 fine was applied to COVID-positive people who failed in illegal rallies and self-quarantine.

Mr Gut said the decision to avoid prosecution of criminals fueled tensions with the police association. Members of the Police Association were forced to take strict measures.

“These penalties have been reviewed once issued. In all other cases, police are already using their discretion,” he said.

“But if the police issue a fine and it is disputed, the matter should be heard in court, as it is certain that there is a public interest in ensuring continued deterrence and compliance.”

Liberty Victoria’s President Julia Kletzenbacher urged the government to consider the fines already paid for fairness.

“People are fined hugely because the response to COVID-19 needs to be based on health, not police response, and the Victorian police are told to exercise discretion in most situations. You will not be fined, “said Kretzenbacher. ..

She said the disadvantaged community was disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 fine.

O’Reilly, 62, was fined when he met with fellow refugee action group supporters on Good Friday.

His written objection to the fine was dismissed, and he chose not to bring the matter to court because of health problems and he did not want to be stressed or convicted.

“Hard labor and discriminatory crackdowns and fines were not an acceptable part of dealing with public health emergencies,” said Chris Breen, a spokesman for the refugee action group.

Police policy changes were welcomed, but he said police were tracking 30 refugee supporters for $ 50,000 as fines resulting from Preston’s car convoy.

“I’m still facing the charges of sedition heard in the Magistrates’ Court … to be one of the organizers of the convoy,” Breen said.

“Police need to withdraw fines and prosecutions that contradict the new approach, and exorbitant attacks on the right to protest.”

Berhan Ahmed, an adjunct professor at the University of Melbourne and an African-Australian community leader, said infringements issued to residents from nine public housing towers that fell into a “hard lockdown” in July further hurt them. ..

He said some residents who had mental health problems and drug addiction were fined for leaving their apartment.

“They wanted to sneak out of the spot and needed a health care worker instead of the police,” he said.

Dr. Ahmed said that many of the fined people are already under great financial and emotional stress.

“They are already struggling to pay their bills, and then they receive a fine they can’t pay.”

Catherine Ellis, CEO of the Victorian Youth Council, welcomed the “compassionate and constructive approach” from the authorities.

“It’s cruel and painful for COVID-19 to ask children, adolescents, and their families to pay thousands of dollars in fines, in addition to all the challenges facing unemployment, educational turmoil, and social isolation,” she said. Said.

Victorian police did not answer the question from Age, But issued a statement.

“The Victorian police will assist the Chief Health Officer by enforcing the instructions currently in place and will issue infringements to those who have blatantly violated the instructions,” said a spokesman.

“A three-tier system form of guidance has been developed to ensure organizational consistency in reviewing CHO directive violations or dealing with disputed violations. This approach is directional, consistent, And provides equivalence. “

A Victoria State Government spokesperson said the fines played an important role in sending a clear message that anyone who explicitly and intentionally violates the instructions of the Chief Health Officer will face penalties.

“The Victorian police have decided to prosecute independently of the government, and it would be inappropriate to intervene in these decisions,” a spokesman said.

“The Victorian police have conducted extensive checks throughout the pandemic to ensure that all fines have been properly issued.”

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Carolyn Webb is a reporter for The Age.

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