LEGAL OBSERVER REPORT: The Policing of the IMARC Protests

Download a PDF copy of this 45 page report here.

Media: Legal observers find police ‘set tone of violence’ at anti-mining protests. Benjamin Miller, The Age, December 7, 2019.

 

Executive Summary

The police tactics, approaches and the behavior of individual police members during the IMARC protest events from Tuesday 29th to Thursday 31st October demonstrated that Victoria Police do not have the tactical or operational ability to manage peaceful but defiant protests of this nature without resort to excessive levels of coercive force that exceed their lawful powers and obligations under the Charter.

A Legal Observer stated; “From the moment we arrived at 6.30 on Tuesday, even with relatively small number of activists present the police were using violence and aggression. They were clearly not responding to ‘escalating tensions’ or ‘risks’ posed by protesters. Police set a tone of violence from the outset. Even before delegates or larger numbers of protesters arrived I witnessed police pushing people to the ground and reacting in a violent and aggressive manner.”

The protest activities that took place in the conference vicinity over the four days took various forms, including a ‘First Nations smoking ceremony, marches, a ‘die-in’, mock dinners, public speeches, musical performances, meditation, and a picket-line-style human blockade of several key entrances.

Most protest activities included or were accompanied by activists chanting, singing, or holding banners. Other blockade protests included people using superglue to attach their hands to roads or to surfaces to slow or prevent removal by police. One person was observed who had locked on to a handrail by a bicycle D-lock.

Prior to any police action, the picket involved activists linking arms and standing in lines in order to block venue entrances. A critical point to make here is that despite this configuration being disruptive and aimed at preventing access to an area or an entrance the actions of people standing in a line, linking arms were not physically threatening or violent in and of themselves (See Figure 1 above). It was the response by authorities to this protest activity that warrants attention.

We noted and were deeply concerned by the targeted arrests of protest organisers – some at the very moment they were addressing the crowd with a megaphone. The deliberate confiscating of megaphones, either during an arrest or by taking them off the ground when left unattended early on the Tuesday 29th was also concerning. This clearly limited protester’s ability to communicate political messages effectively to the large crowd and was specifically mentioned by police liaison and protest organiser’s as hampering their ability to prevent unnecessary escalations. It pointed to an antagonistic and stifling approach to the protest. More than anything it indicated police willingness to flagrantly ignore Charter rights to political expression, not to mention the freedom of political communication protected by the Constitution.

Legal observers witnessed, recorded and documented multiple incidents of excessive, unnecessary and potentially unlawful uses of force, either as a coordinated crowd control tactic or by individual police members using excessive force within a police maneuver or tactic. This policing had a series of obviously harmful physical, emotional and psychological effects on the individuals affected.

Inappropriate and mis-applied tactics

The use of force and crowd control techniques we observed being applied at the IMARC protest event were designed and developed for circumstances where police face direct physical threat.

At the IMARC protest event these same techniques were directed in most cases at people who were offering no direct physical threat to police. The police actions over those three days shocked many protestors, journalists and observers present. That people were scared, injured, and placed in excruciating levels of pain for what was an act of peaceful protest is greatly disturbing.

Victoria Police do not appear to have developed tactics and approaches that can be lawfully applied when a person is defiant or refusing to cooperate with their directives. As discussed in detail below, the law, and Victoria Police’s own internal Regulations and Guidelines clearly stipulate that OC foam cannot be used against a person who is “passively resisting,”[i] yet OC foam was sprayed in precisely these circumstances.

That stipulation is a critical human rights protection for citizens. It means that police cannot threaten or apply force solely to make a person comply with their directions unless there is a clear and proportionate rationale to do so.

Victoria Police appear not to have considered developing tactical options and approaches to managing protest events like this in the 13 years since Victoria enacted the Human Rights Charter.

This report asserts that Victoria Police cannot use the tactics we observed at IMARC and maintain their obligations under the Human Rights Charter.

It is the actions of police where use of force has been applied against protesters who were not physically threatening that will be the focus of this report.

Victoria Police Commander Libby Murphy was reported in the media as stating: “We are doing things lawfully and we are doing things in line with policy and anything that is of a concern to anyone we will review and make our own assessment.[ii]

“Everything the police are doing are [sic] predicated by the behaviour of the protesters,” declared Murphy.[iii]

Justifying or rationalising abuses by pointing to the poor conduct of some protesters is a common response by police during and after protest events such as these, and no doubt police were disturbed by the level of defiance and determination of protesters to physically blockade entrances to the conference venue, however it contradicts a basic principle of human rights protection: that the rights and dignity of a person must be observed despite the behaviour or criminality of that person or other people.

Even the most exceptional circumstances such as a state of emergency do not justify a departure from basic human rights standards for law enforcement.

 

‘Disruption’ is not a justification for unlawful assault

‘Disruptions’ occur every day throughout metropolitan Melbourne. Road works, traffic accidents, street parades, despite their potential inconvenience to ambulances, people using public roads or amenities, or getting to and from work—are accepted by the public and policed in ways which reflect that acceptance and safely facilitate their existence.

When it comes to political protest the rhetoric of ‘balancing rights’ quickly becomes a useful justification to intervene and limit protest rights rather than a genuine attempt to uphold them. We see this in the arbitrary time limits police place upon protesters standing on a road. We also see it when levels of force are used to move protesters standing outside a building that are totally disproportionate to any harms caused by the protest itself.

This claim by Victoria Police of ‘balancing rights’ also creates the misconception that police must be acting impartially. The documented tactics, behaviour, and demeanour of police observed at the IMARC event were far from impartial.[iv]

International human rights jurisprudence clearly recognises that peaceful assembly, by its very nature, is disruptive, can inconvenience, and be perceived as a nuisance by some people, but that “rights worth having are unruly things.[v]

As discussed below, even if the actions of some or a minority of people involved in an event are unlawful, this does not remove the right of peaceful assembly for others collectively. Individual actions that are unlawful committed in the course of a demonstration cannot be used to justify the removal or limitation of the collective rights to peaceful assembly and expression.[vi]

The rights to peaceful assembly, association and expression are explicitly recognised and protected within Victorian legislation and international human rights law precisely due to their importance to the establishment and maintenance of a free, equal and democratic society. The freedom of political communication is likewise protected by Australia’s Constitution.

In essence, the bar to determine whether ‘disruption’ becomes a threat to ‘public order or safety or morality’ needs to be set quite high by police, courts and authorities.  Particularly in light of the extent of disruption caused regularly by other public events mentioned above.

Any policing of civil society actions or events that limits these Charter rights must be lawful; necessary, reasonable and proportionate as set our in et Charter itself.

The United Nations Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials is also clear that police use of force must be strictly necessary and proportionate.[vii]

By refusing to move upon the direction of police, IMARC protesters were committing, at worst, very minor (Summary Act) offences. These offenses do not justify the use of batons, punches, kicks, the dangerous use of horses, or pepper spray. People should not suffer bruising, scratches, soft tissue, ligament damage and intense pain from chemical sprays for engaging in civil disobedience.

In many cases noted by legal observers, police failed to give directions, commands or orders prior to police use of force. In effect, protesters were engaged in civil disobedience in order to maintain a picket line or blockade of the conference. Despite chanting and yelling at times, the actions of the protesters, although they included periods of rapid movement and outright defiance of police directions, did not include physical violence.

Police will often use a legal construct called ‘Breach of the Peace[viii] as the reason to arrest, to move-on or use force against protesters—yet that legal term is extraordinarily vague and open almost entirely to the police member’s interpretation and ‘reasonable belief.’ It is not an offence found in the Summary Offences Act, but rather a so-called ‘common law offence’ that permits police to arrest the individual to prevent further breaches of the peace.

Figure 2: Use of police horses was particularly dangerous; Photo, Liam Petterson, Farago

 

The common law does, however, provide some guidance on what may be considered a breach of the peace. Common law courts (in Australia and the United Kingdom) have held that the following do not, in themselves, constitute breaches of the peace:

  • ‘Mere refusal of a trespasser to leave [a] premises’;[ix]
  • ‘Mere disobedience of a police direction’;[x] and
  • ‘Peaceful and non-violent’ protest, even if an activist is ‘loud and  assertive.’ [xi]

In the Max Brenner Case the court held that what constituted a ‘threat to public order’ needed to take the rights of protesters to express their political beliefs into consideration.[xii]

A colourful, loud, active protest that attracts public interest and generates robust discussion may be lawful and legitimate even if it causes inconvenience to the public.

The lawfulness of protesters’ conduct is contested. The various charges laid by police will be heard in court and are outside the scope of this report. A great many, if not most, of the charges laid by police were for an offence that would not have occurred if it were not for the police crowd control tactics employed—i.e. the offence would not have occurred were it not for the police action.

Generating chaos and confusion

Police tactics such as crowd pushes and manoeuvres directly into crowds by the Mounted Branch turned static and peaceful picket lines into dangerous commotions, and generated high degrees of distress and chaos.  The policing tactics understandably caused confusion and alarm amongst protesters.

Legal observers present at the IMARC protest stated that police “set the tone for the protest from the outset,” and that police surges into the crowd, and their hostility and aggression, was “clearly not responding to any ‘escalating tensions’ or ‘risks’ posed by the protesters.” In fact, observers noted that prior to many police manoeuvres, protesters were standing in lines, listening to speakers, singing and chanting like many protests.

The angry, surging, chaotic scenes covered in the television news footage were often the direct aftermath of a crowd surge by a phalanx of police, injurious use of force or a push by police horses into a crowd.

Much has been made in the media commentary of the chaotic, seemingly aggressive nature of the crowd behaviour.

We note that many commentators, including the Police Minister, the Premier of Victoria and the Deputy Prime Minister, would have only seen footage provided by news channels, most of which captured this chaotic, angry aftermath of a police use of force tactic. We advise commentators and external parties to consider the context of news footage prior to making broad public statements about the nature of a complex event such as this. (See Recommendation 9).

This dynamic of police actions generating chaotic and uncontrolled crowd reactions is well documented in the literature of public order policing.[xiii] Even unintentionally, police crowd control tactics can cause panic, distress, generate anger, confusion and create enormous harms far worse than the supposed offence or ‘breach of the peace’ that the tactic is intended to mitigate.   These tactics therefore affect people arbitrarily including the media, legal observers, first aiders, the elderly, the disabled, the young and the less physically robust people present. This is what we saw at IMARC.

 

Tactical options & alternative approaches

Police have a range of non-force tactical options available to them at public order events that present far less risk to everyone. As an example to illustrate this, had the disruption to the conference been a gas leak rather than a protest, police would have facilitated foot and vehicular traffic safely around the disruption, planned alternative access measures with conference organisers and sought to minimise risks to the public and maintain safety. In some circumstances this may have involved finding an alternative venue. The principles of safety and minimising risks to the public would have guided a policing response to many other significant disruptions to an event, building or public thoroughfare such as a traffic accident or medical emergency. As the protest completed soon after midday each day, police had the option to leave a protest in place for periods of time and direct conference attendees well away from the protest area.

As illustrated below (See 1. Police Negotiators) police did not take a Negotiated Management approach to this event.

Notably, the Melbourne Convention & Exhibition Centre has approximately 39 different access points including the car park. As part of their operations, police, undoubtedly in collaboration with building security, locked multiple entrances and left only a few open and accessible to conference attendees. Although there may have been several operational reasons for this decision, it had the effect of most conference attendees having to make their way inside the building via one of the few entrances where protesters were concentrated.   In some cases, police and private security were seen directing or shepherding attendees toward entrances already blocked by the protest picket line. Police were specifically requested not to do this by protesters engaged in police liaison roles. Whether intentional or not, this had the effect of maximising the contact between conference attendees and protesters, which in-turn meant police using the levels of force as described below in order to make a gap in the picket line.

We noted that on the Tuesday police created an entry point for delegates at the Clarendon Street entrance and protesters responded by stretching their blockade line further to prevent that entrance being used as well.

We acknowledge that the protest groups were mobile and determined to block all access to the conference if possible and that police would have been concerned about protesters entering and disrupting the conference from inside had more entrances been available.

It was noted however that by the final day of the conference, venue staff were directing attendees to other building access points, which significantly reduced police and protester contact. It remains unclear why this was not done earlier.

Overall it appears that police did not plan for or did not take up numerous opportunities for a negotiated management approach to this protest event. This is discussed further in 1. Police Negotiators below.

It remains concerning that police chose to apply coercive tactics that maximised the risks to members and the public. Police tactics shifted static, managed, and relatively well–behaved crowds into chaotic scenarios; and, utterly failed to take into account the safety, well-being, or rights of people who were protesting.

Police were obviously concerned about potential ‘breaches of the peace’ and had publically stated their concern over some protester behaviour toward conference attendees. Legal observers present did not directly observe any physical interactions between protesters and conference attendees, although we noted some reported in the media.[xiv]

In general we observed the police response to the public was plainly excessive and generated more harm than that which the police were supposedly attempting to prevent. Police teams would run out of the police line, push, shove, and in some cases arrest people who were simply holding banners or making a speech through a megaphone. Observers noted that police were often confused, reactive and often appeared unsure as to the purpose of a particular tactic.

Police use of force that falls outside police guidelines and regulations is serious and could be determined to constitute unlawful assault by a court.

This report highlights multiple incidents which, if brought before a court, or if were independently investigated, we believe would likely found to be unlawful.

Policy Rules contained in the Victorian Police Manual (VPM) cited below are mandatory and provide the minimum standards that employees must apply. Non-compliance with or a departure from a Policy Rule may be subject to management or disciplinary action.

Amongst other findings, we argue below that it is not possible for Victoria Police to deploy horses as a use of force technique and still abide by its own Use of Force policy, practices and procedures. (see Recommendation 2)

Complaints and accountability

We understand that numerous formal complaints have been submitted to either Victoria Police or IBAC since the IMARC protests. We also understand that many people have decided not to submit complaints due to lack of confidence in the current system of internally handled complaint investigation. It is of deep concern that the vast majority of the many allegations of potentially unlawful police behaviour documented in this report are unlikely to ever by adjudicated independently. To date the current police oversight body IBAC have not scrutinised the varied controversial issues with public order policing in Victoria in any systemic way.

We have included a recommendation for the Victorian Government to enact and resource a Police Misconduct and Corruption Division within IBAC that can independently investigate allegations of serious police misconduct.

A PDF copy of the full 45 page report is available here.


[i] Victoria Police Manual (VPMG Crowd Control)

[ii] https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-10-30/climate-rally-police-pepper-spray-protesters-imarc-melbourne/11652182

[iii] https://www.theage.com.au/national/victoria/police-insist-actions-showed-fine-restraint-despite-violent-clashes-with-protesters-20191030-p535wk.html

[iv] The two most prominent cases of a police demeanour could be exemplified through the reports of one police officer having been disciplined for posting a sticker on his police-issued Body Worn Camera that said, “EAD hippy,” where ‘EAD’ is slang “Eat A Dick.” Another officer was observed to have been making racist comments and was later reprimanded for flashing a white-power hand gesture, to which the media revealed a context of his apparent affiliation with white-supremacist groups on social media. In both cases, Victoria Police at first vehemently denied the reports, and even questioned the credibility of those making the claims, only to admit a short time later that they were accurate, and that they were “extremely disappointed by the situation.” These were the most publicised cases, but can reflect the general attitude and demeanour of the police presence observed throughout the IMARC event.

[v] In considering the need for tolerance of disruptive protest (whether intentional or collateral) the words of Laws LJ in Tabernacle v Secretary of State for Defence [2009] EWCA Civ 23 are insightful:
“Rights worth having are unruly things. Demonstrations and protests are liable to be a nuisance. They are liable to be inconvenient and tiresome, or at least perceived as such by others who are out of sympathy with them.” (at [43]).

[vi] Strasbourg case law which emphasises that a protester does not lose the right to assemble/protest peacefully unless they themselves are violent:
“an individual does not cease to enjoy the right to peaceful assembly as a result of sporadic violence or other punishable acts committed by others in the course of the demonstration if the individual remains peaceful in his or her own intentions or behaviour”. (Ziliberberg v Moldova, App no 61821/00 Admissibility decision of 4 May 2004).

[vii] https://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/LawEnforcementOfficials.aspx

[viii] https://www.findlaw.com.au/articles/4539/what-is-breach-of-the-peace.aspx

[ix] Jordan v Gibbon (1863) 8 LT 391, cited in White v South Australia (2010) 106 SASR 521 [399].

[x] R v Reid (No 2); Forbutt v Blake (1981) 2 A Crim R 28, cited in White v South Australia (2010) 106 SASR 521 [399].

[xi] Percy v Director of Public Prosecutions [1995] 1 WLR 1382.

[xii] Max Brenner (Unreported, Magistrates Court of Victoria, 23 July 2012). As a Magistrates Court case, it has limited precedential value, but it is significant as it is the first case to examine trespass laws in public places in light of the Charter.

[xiii] See for example: della Porta, D. and Reiter, H., eds., 1998. Policing protest: the control of mass demonstrations in contemporary democracies. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

[xiv] https://www.theaustralian.com.au/nation/police-clash-with-climate-activists-outside-mining-conference-in-melbourne/news-story/3426da4225b27a15848edbeb1019193c (Mining conference delegates tell of abuse by climate change protesters, The Australian, Nick Evans, Tessa Akerman and Scott Henry)

What is this thing called Legal Observing?

And why do you wear those pink vests?

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Legal Observers, or Human Rights Monitors as they are sometimes called, have become a common sight at large scale protest events throughout the western world over the past decade or so and the chances are you have seem MALS Legal Observers in the pink hi-vis vests at a protest in Melbourne.

Working in organised teams in hi-visibility vests, arm-bands or special caps and armed with clipboards and cameras, Legal Observers are becoming more common at protests as governments increase police powers, restrict protest activity and roll-back basic democratic freedoms in ways once unimaginable.

The independent citizen monitoring or police at protests has a long history. In the United States the Black Panthers was perhaps the earliest group to deploy community legal observers to patrol and monitor the policing of Black communities in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. In Australia, priests were called upon to act as observers and to provide a moral deterrence to police violence.during the large anti-Vietnam War moratorium marches.  The Legal Observer Team formed in Melbourne for the S11 protests against the World Economic Forum were the first in Australia since that time. Observer teams have been used for many decades in places like Northern Ireland, where independent civilian groups formed ongoing human rights monitoring teams with the aim of documenting and deterring the brutality of the occupying military and police force.

Image result for legal observers More recently, legal observer teams were deployed at many large scale anti-globalisation demonstrations around the world – including the protests held in Seattle, Prague, Quebec, Washington, London, Torronto, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.

Internationally, citizen initiated, third party observer and monitoring projects are becoming more common. Amnesty International US recently fielded Legal Observers during protests in Ferguson, Missouri and sent teams of Human Rights Observers to the Dakota Access #NoDAPL Pipeline protests.  The US National Lawyers Guild (NLG) routinely field Legal Observers throughout the United States.

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The goal of a Legal Observer Team is to ensure and enhance the political ‘space’ within which people protest. The highly visible presence of independent citizens helps to ensure that abuses of the civil, legal or human rights of citizens at the hands of police do not go unnoticed. The presence of Legal Observers should reduce the probability of police abuses or may assist in ensuring that arrests are carried out in a less violent way. Legal Observers therefore act as a viable form of deterrence of police violence.

Legal Observers often act for as the eyes and ears of a larger legal team — to observe and record incidents and the activities of law enforcement in relation to the demonstrators.

This includes documenting any arrest, use of force, intimidating display of force, denial of access to public spaces like parks and footpaths, and any other behavior on the part of police that appears to restrict activist’s ability to express their political views.

This documentation is done in a thorough and professional manner, so that lawyers representing arrestees or bringing an action against the police will be able to objectively evaluate the lawfulness of police conduct.  Information gathered by Legal Observers  has contributed to defending and advancing the rights of activists in many scenarios. Documentation has also been critical for detailed analysis and reporting on the police actions at protests.  See some of those Legal Observer reports see our Resources page here.

Legal Observers don’t give legal, tactical, or political advice, negotiate with the police for demonstrators, or speak to the media or public on behalf of the protest.   We will however speak publicly about police action and about human rights abuses we witness and report afterwards.  Legal Observers are trained not to interfere in arrests but instead take in as much information as possible.

Third-party presence

Image result for legal observersAs public order policing becomes increasingly paramilitary –by deploying violence and force against groups of unarmed people –so the need for independent Legal Observing and counter-surveillance of police actions becomes more acute.

Legal (or third-party) Observer Teams aim to provide a level of independent and impartial scrutiny at community protests and political events that serves to deter police from using violence against citizens. The deterrence effect of a Legal Observer Team can include the simple effect of being observed, the threat of future civil legal sanctions against police, the reinforcement of existing police accountability mechanisms or the possible application of domestic civil rights or international human rights mechanisms. Legal Observers act as on-the-ground witness’s so that our notes, our photos and out testimony can be used in follow up court action or for complaints against police.  Being a third-party (ie. not one one of the protesters) means that our testimony has more credibility in a court.

Legal Observers wear vests or some form of clear visible identification in order to stand out and to ensure that the police and public notice us. Being visible and being seen is crucial. Legal Observers will often stand so that police will notice our presence.

Image result for legal observersSignificantly, third-party observation or ‘presence’ can also serve to reduce the level of fear experienced by activists when faced with violent or coercive police responses. The presence of Legal Observers can be reassuring for activists when isolated or fearful of what the police may do.

This reassurance function is less tangible but and important impact of a legal observer presence. In contexts where the legislative and police response to protest is intimidation and overwhelming show of force, the presence of independent third parties dedicated to civil and political rights can be critical.   Both the deterrence effect and the reduction of fear are important objectives of the Legal Observer teams.

Most people are alienated from the law, by obscure legal language, and by the decisions that are made in courts and parliaments. At the same time, protestors are disproportionately targeted by the state and police authorities and disproportionately entangled in the law and criminal justice system.

By providing clear legal information, assisting protestors to give statements and making complaints against police abuses, Legal Observers help people to use the law to assert their civil and political rights, and -in so doing –help give people more control over what happens to them.

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The deterrence impact of Legal Observers is very limited however and can never be relied upon. Horrific abuses and infringements of rights occurs despite the presence of observers.

But the presence of dedicated, trained and identified observers adds to and reinforces, both practically and symbolically, the range of legal, ethical and political constraints on police behaviour which already exist. These constraints, which include international human rights covenants, public and media scrutiny and public opinion, the threat of legal sanctions and civil litigation against individual police, and current Police ethical standards, protocols and standing orders, will not prevent the police nor private agents abuse power nor will they prevent gross violations of people’s rights occurring.

But Legal Observers, by being on the ground and accurately witnessing and documenting abuses, can serve to strengthen the limited effectiveness of these constraints on police behaviour.

For more information about the roles, scope, mandate and skills involved in Legal Observing have a read of our 20 page Legal Observer Handbook(PDF)

NETPOL: Network for Police Monitoring in the United Kingdom have this great guide How to Be a Legal Observer.

Huffington Post ran this article Legal Observers Help Monitor Police which is worth a read too.

Want to try it out?

You don’t have to be a lawyer or legally trained to be a Legal Observer but training in the relevant laws, police powers and observer skills and protocols is important. If you’d like to become a legal observer and you are based in Melbourne then keep an eye out for our next training on our training page. or join our email list.

Anthony Kelly

Who’s who in Victoria Police

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Public Order Response Team (PORT)

Identifying police at protests can be tricky business.

There are often different units with different uniforms and gear, different ranks and then police come to protests with specialist roles.

The identification of individual officers goes to the heart of accountability. It is useful for Legal Observers, journalists, street medics and activists to have an idea who is who. With accurate identification we can get a sense of how different police units might act and more accurately identify police in the case of an incident or for an eventual complaint or legal action.

The Victorian State Government has been investing a significant amount in specialist teams since 2009 when the large Operations Response Unit was established,  including protective armor, new equipment and specialist training. The latest increase in police numbers announced by Premier Andrews in December 2016 included as least 40 new Public Order Response Team (PORT) officers to increase capacity to rapidly respond to incidents involving “hostile crowds”.

The use of specialist, paramilitary style police units has been the subject of much research, analysis and commentary, in particular since the high toll of police shootings in Victoria, many by the Special Operations Group (see below) in the late 80’s and early 90’s and has been driven in part by internal police union agitation to lower police injuries with protective gear and equipment that reduces physical contact (such as tasers and OC spray) for occupational health and safety reasons. But the global policing trend toward military-like tactics, training, uniforms and equipment has undoubtedly been driven by the enormous growth in the highly lucrative international trade in repressive technologies. The rapid investment in counter-terrorism since September 11, 2001 has also resulted in a massive transfer of tactics, knowledge and equipment between police and militaries. Professor Jude McCulloch’s Blue Army, Paramiltary Policing in Australia is a great place to start if you want to delve into this more.

As David Vakallis and Jude McCulloch argue, since 2001 the trend towards more militarised policing at Victorian protests has “escalated such that the clatter of riot shields and the acrid sting of capsicum spray have become something to expect from police at protests.”

A more general discussion on why police choose certain tactics at protests can be found here.

This article, however, is focusing upon identifying the name, rank of individual police and distinguishing between the various police units at protest events in Victoria.

Name Tags

By their own regulations, VicPol members in uniform are required to wear current issue name tags that specify first name or initial/s, surname and rank. (Victoria Police Manual, Uniform and Appearance Standards, Oct 2016)
Despite calls by legal and human rights groups for many years, Legal Observers still note that the wearing visible name tags at protest events is inconsistent and that the ease of obscuring or removing a name tag poses serious problems for accountability.
If police officers cannot be identified then they can act with a high degree of impunity; research suggests that police officers who wear nametags are more conscious of the needs of the general public they are interacting with. Nametags, therefore, are an important safeguard that can help ensure individual police are held responsible for their actions.
By foregoing a nametag, police are able to assume the power of a collective identity without exposing their individuality. This is a process known as de-individuation, and can lead to higher instances of negative or socially irresponsible behaviour.
‘I tried to avoid the police without name badges, it seemed clear to me that they
were more prepared to be aggressive. I witnessed one police officer without a
badge punching a protester in the face.’ Jing, 27. Occupy Melbourne protester 2011

Identifying Police by Rank

Firstly – there are 13 different ranks in Victoria Police – from Constable to Chief Commissioner. The main ones you will see at a protest event are pictured below.

When you are liaising with police take note of their rank.  You should be speaking with someone who is a Sergeant or above and if you want to speak with a senior officer then look for the three pips. Often Inspectors are the Forward Commanders for any large protest but you can always ask for the senior officer or OIC – Officer In Charge –  when you want to speak with the most senior police officer present.

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At large protests police will be drawn from other duties and also from specialist units, depending upon the size, scale and the police’s assessment of the nature of the protest.

OPERATIONS RESPONSE UNIT (ORU)
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The Operations Response Unit (ORU) is a highly visible and trained response team tasked to tackle high-priority public safety, road policing and crime issues across the state.

Operations Response Unit, which was set up around 2009 employs 250-300 staff, has an intelligence cell and has access to about 68 vehicles. It is designed to provide rapid and ready response to major incidents and disasters at short notice.

The ORU members are trained to tackle issues such as CBD violence, rural traffic issues, weapons searches and crime or drug operations.

The massive investment in this new unit was authorised by former Chief Commissioner Simon Overland and boosted by his successor Ken Lay as part of a push to reintroduce ‘low-tolerance and pro-active’ policing across the state. The idea is that if police can deploy in large numbers as early as possible their presence will deter violence. The sheer scale of policing we have seen at recent Melbourne protests have reflected this ‘force of numbers’ approach.

 

PUBLIC ORDER RESPONSE TEAMS (PORT)

The Public Order Response Team (PORT) pictured above and below, are part of the ORU and includes 200 or so police members drawn from general duties who have been provided with specialist crowd control training. PORT is designed to provide a rapid and ‘force of numbers’ response to public order incidents and has dedicated vehicles and riot control equipment.

It was formed in June 2011 partly in response to a spate of ‘out of control’ suburban teenage parties and also in the wake of the London riots of that year. The primary objective of PORT is to “restore and maintain public order in volatile and/or hostile crowd environments and certain emergency management situations.”

They are often sent out to back local police targeting anti-social behaviour and public drunkenness but are also regularly deployed at protest events.   Not all PORT members wear the helmets and protective gear but are most often deployed in formations, lines or units at protests. Depending upon the weather and conditions PORT will have standard yellow vests, clear goggles and look like general duties police.

The several hundred PORT members are trained in specific tactics to deal with public order and “riot” situations.

What is defined as a ‘riot’ and who defines it is extraordinarily problematic.  We know that they have trained with tear gas and full length riot shields that we have not yet seen on Melbourne’s streets.  You can see some of this training on YouTube here.

A note on training. Police training in relation to protests tends to influence the approach taken to protesters.  If police training implies that protesters are akin to insurgents or terrorists and that crowds are inherently dangerous, and concentrates or tactical issues related to riot control, then the attitude of individual police to protesters is likely to be harsh. As we can see in this Victoria police YouTube video, out of uniform police members playing the part of protesters in the training exercise are violent, abusive and throwing objects. Undoubtedly this sort of training would colour the attitudes of police and their approaches to protesters.

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PORT in the Carlton Gardens. Picture: Stuart McEvoy

 

CRITICAL INCIDENT RESPONSE TEAMS (CIRT)

Launched in 2004, Critical Incident Response Teams, (pictured below) provide 24 hours a day, 7 days a week response, which includes a negotiator capability, to incidents  involving firearms, suicide, consular threats or forced entry searches that not meet the criteria of the Special Operations Group (SOG).

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CIRT members at a protest (2016)

They have access to tasers, beanbag (extendable baton) rounds, and machine guns, body armour and helmets as well as armoured vehicles.  CIRT were the first in Victoria to be provided with OC spray / foam and are only rarely present at large protest events where police anticipate violence, (or large assertive crowds that they fear that they wont be able to control without sub-lethal weaponry.)  If deployed, CIRT will usually be kept in the background at protests. They are also likely to have a different chain of command than PORT.

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CIRT at a Melbourne protest, December 2016

SPECIAL OPERATIONS GROUP

The elite paramilitary Special Operations Group (SOG) respond to incidents that are beyond the scope, experience and skill level of (CIRT) at any time.  SOG will be rarely, if ever, deployed to protest events. The SOG are highly trained in anti-terrorism tactics, building entry skills, and conducting high risk searches. Formed in 1977 its main function was, and remains, to provide a response to politically motivated and criminal terrorist activity. They have been known to refer to themselves as the “Sons Of God”.

MOUNTED BRANCH

The Mounted Branch are hard to miss at protests in Victoria and remain one of the more dangerous and controversial units in Victoria Police having been responsible for a huge number of protester injuries over the past decade or more.  Police horses are used to provide support to police at events “requiring crowd control, protests or marches needing public order management”.

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Source: Wikipedia

The Mounted Branch members train with other specialist police units, including the Public Order Response Team (PORT) and are most commonly deployed into crowds when police perceive that police on the ground are loosing control or at risk.   Lines of police horses are used as cordons when stationary, or as moving cordons behind marches, but can also be run directly into crowds, sometimes quite rapidly, to disperse or move people away from buildings or away from police lines. The use of police horses is always problematic in that the risk of serious and life threatening injury to people in crowd situations is extraordinarily high.  When horses are run directly into or near large crowds of people who can not move back it  is too easy for people to be violently pushed by the horses, to fall under, and be trampled.

The Victorian Parliament have not had any regulatory oversight on how police horses are used for many decades and their use arguably impinges upon the right to peaceful assembly.

SEARCH AND RESCUE

The Victoria Police Search and Rescue squad (SAR) conduct land and water search and rescue operations including people missing in remote and difficult areas.  They are equipped with climbing and cutting equipment.  Search and Rescue are commonly called out to protest events when activists chain, lock, U-bolt or otherwise physically attach themselves to buildings or equipment or are required to be removed from tripods, tree-sits or high-location banner-drop actions.   Generally, Search & Rescue members are professional and courteous with activists and many of them have experience with various activist lock-on devices and high location protests.

 

References and further reading:

Vakalis, D., McCulloch, J., 2012, Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue, Militarized Policing and Occupy Melbourne http://overland.org.au/previous-issues/issue-occupy/feature-jude-mcculloch-and-david-vakalis/

McCulloch, J., 2001, Blue Army: Paramilitary Policing in Australia, Melbourne University Press, Carlton South Vic Australia.

Specialist Roles with Victoria Police http://www.policecareer.vic.gov.au/police/about-the-role/specialist-roles1

An Tien Hsieh and Shu-Hui Hsieh, ‘Dangerous Work and Name Disclosure’ (2010) 38
W. Heck, ‘Police who Snitch: Deviant Actors in a Secret Society’ (1992) 13

Calls for ban on police horses at public protests Peta Carlyon 26 Oct 2011, ABC http://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-10-26/calls-for-ban-on-police-horses-at-public-protests/3600874

OCCUPY POLICING A Report into the Effects and Legality of the Eviction of Occupy Melbourne from City Square, Occupy Melbourne Legal Support Team October 2012.

Do Not Resist” and the Crisis of Police Militarization, Dexter Filkins, The New Yorker, 13 May, 2016,

Police Miltarisation, ABC Radio National Sunday Extra (Audio), Sunday 24 August 2014

Policing the Black Lives Matter rally in Melbourne

The police presence at the Black Lives Matter (BLM) rally on Sunday 17 July, 2016 was notable for its sheer size and scale.*

Everyone at the event would have noticed the long lines of police arrayed around the initial rally gathering point at the State Library forecourt and the various PORT – Public Order Response Team units, manoeuvring through and around the crowd in tight formations, anticipating threats.

People on the march and every shopper passing by would have noted the long police cordons across each intersection along the march down Swanston Street all the way to the Flinders St intersection. They would have noticed the police horses (mounted branch) at the front and rear of the march and several large police broiler vans spaced along the route.  They might have seen the dark blue units of special riot police, with helmets, visors and body armour that were ready and waiting.  It was perhaps one of the largest – if not the largest single turn out of Victoria Police members for a peaceful protest march we had seen so far. Many of us had been to many far larger marches with only a fraction of the police presence.

Why the large police presence?

IMG_4635So why?  Why was the level of police presence at this event, a peaceful protest rally and march, involving somewhere between three to four thousand people so notably large?

Almost all rallies and marches held in Melbourne’s CBD, and there may be several each week, have some level of police presence. Most often, police are present to observe, to ensure safety  and facilitate movement through streets.  Police tend to state that they are present only to ‘prevent a breach of the peace’ – which is an old but still very much utlised legal construct which is most often used as the justification for police interventions in public protest events and the use of force to contain or disperse a protest.

Regular observers of demonstrations and rallies would notice that the size and scale of the police presence differs, sometimes quite considerably. A small event might attract 3 or 4 police members standing by.  Larger marches might have several hundred and the mounted branch is an unfortunate but regular feature at Melbourne protests.

Police make decisions about public order event planning based upon multiple factors. The Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities for instance, protects rights to peaceful assembly and police in Victoria are obligated to uphold that. They will also make preparations based upon anticipated crowd numbers, the type of protest and the group organising the protest event.  Overall, police aim to prepare for protest in such a way that they are able to maintain control whatever occurs at the rally. Having said that, police often make mistakes, misinterpret the situation and choose highly ineffective tactics.  Their assessment of risk can be incorrect and the size and scale of their presence can therefore infringe upon the right to peaceful assembly in a variety of ways.  There is a discussion of why police choose particular approaches at Activistrights.org.au

Context Assessment

So what factors played into the Victoria Police assessment of this particular Black Lives Matter rally?

The shooting death of Alton Sterling in Louisiana and Philando Castile in Minnesota, both at the hands of US police officers, triggered the recent wave of protests in the United States over racialised policing.  The Melbourne protest  was called to “remember these lives lost, as well as to remember the Black victims of police brutality and state sanctioned violence in Australia.”   Furthermore the killing of five white police officers during a protest in Dallas has raised tensions at Black Lives Matter protests throughout the US and that tension undoubtedly fed into both the media coverage and police assessment of the Melbourne protest event.   Despite being overwhelmingly nonviolent, the policing of Black Lives Matter protests in the US has been brutal and violent in many occasions over the past few years.  Police assessment would have been very conscious of this current political context.

IMG_4619Related to this was the threats from various new but increasingly visible far right groupings in and around Melbourne.  The United Patriots Fronts and the True Blue Crew had both threatened the BLM rally on their respective social media feeds.  The Facebook event page of the BLM Melbourne rally was inundated with racist and threatening posts, most quickly deleted but at a volume to suggest that counter protests, ether from individuals or groups were a distinct possibility.  Police were monitoring these feeds and these would have played a key part of their assessment.  Furthermore, police publicly referred to and referenced several other recent protest events over the past 12 months where physical clashes between far right and Antifa (anti-fascist) groups occurred.

“It is possible that some people may attend with the intent to disrupt the protest, urge violence or be confrontational. Given the history of violence that has occurred at a range of previous rallies, there will be a strong police presence in order to maintain public safety.” – Acting Assistant Commissioner Russell Barrett (Herald Sun)

Police often plan in reaction to previous events – in a similar way that activist groups do.  As it happened, a very small contingent of far-right counter protesters did establish themselves at the State Library an hour or so before the main rally began. They were surrounded by a police cordon to separate them from the BLM rally participants and were shepherded away up Little Lonsdale Street by a phalanx of police just before the midday starting point of the main rally.    This is consistent with policing at recent anti-racist and counter rallies which has aimed to keep opposing grouping physically apart using barriers and cordons. This dynamic, of police reacting to the threat of counter-protests with higher levels of controlling tactics, including weapon searches and the rise in the use of pepper-spray,  is something that threatens to reduce our political protest ‘space’ even further.

Also prominent in the police assessment and planning, was the fact that the United States Vice Present Joe Biden happened to be in Melbourne on the same day as the BLM rally.  At the time of the rally he would have been at or near the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), a fairly long but plausible march from the CBD. Both police and Biden’s security would have been concerned, rightly or wrongly, that the Black Lives Matter march may have decided to target his visit. It is likely that the unusual police cordons along the east side of march route down Swanston Street were designed to prevent the rally turning east closer to the MCG.  Likewise at the sit down occupation of the Flinders St intersection, two large police cordons also seemed designed to prevent a march east along Flinders Street in the direction of the MCG.  As it was there were no plans to target Biden.

Lastly, numerous activists and observers have noted over many years that protests are policed differently along class and racial lines.  Protests by or about indigenous rights, black deaths in custody or land rights in Australia have historically attracted a more interventionist and controlling level of policing than an equivalently sized non-indigenous protest.  Political protests organized by Indigenous people or people of colour are more likely to face a high police presence than those organised by white or more mainstream organisations.

MALS has observed this over the IMG_4621past few years where peaceful, well organized and even solemn events such as the 2016 Invasion Day rally are very heavily policed despite there clearly being no plans for disruptive or violent action.  Protests by Indigenous people or those perceived to be ‘radical’ are more likely to be treated as less predictable or more prone to violence by police.  This dynamic mirrors the racialised and over-policing experienced on a day to day basis by Indigenous communities and by newly arrived Asian, Arabic, African and Islander communities.  It has been well established that law enforcement globally is susceptible to unconscious or implicit bias when it comes to responding to people of colour, LGBTI or other radical communities of difference.  Protest movements that embrace and embody diversity and that look and feel ‘different’ from the mainstream in terms of class, race and sexuality are more likely to be viewed with suspicion and hostility by police. It is likely that these bias come into play when police are assessing and planning for their public order operations. Police are more likely to hem in and seek to  ‘control’ a protest they perceive to be radical, but tend to stand back and ‘allow’ or ‘facilitate’ a protest event by more mainstream, white or middle class groupings.

As stated by the rally organisors:

“BlackLivesMatter is a call to action and a response to the virulent anti-Black racism that permeates our society. Black Lives Matter is a unique contribution that goes beyond extrajudicial killings of Black people by police and vigilantes.” #BlackLivesMatter is a movement to create a society where Black peoples lives aren’t systematically and deliberately stopped short just because we are Black. #BlackLivesMatter is a rallying call for ALL Black peoples who seek liberation and justice.” 

Even without the particular contextual factors mentioned above, (threat of counter protests, Joe Biden) it is possible that the radical political nature of this Black Lives Matter event, with its focus on racial justice and radical transformation of the criminal justice system and the nature of policing in society, may well have contributed to the sheer scale of the policing of the event.

So whats the problem?

So – what is the problem with a large police presence?  It arguably deterred the United Patriots Front from openly attacking the rally.  At one point at the Bourke St Mall police and IMG_4634riot police quickly surrounded and moved-on a couple of neo-nazis (yes, one had swastika tattoos) abusing the march from the sidelines.  Police didn’t prevent the rally from marching.  They stopped trams and traffic and tolerated the occupation of a major city intersection for several hours.  So what’s the problem?

Well, the concerns are both practical and symbolic.  At several points along the march lines of police effectively blocked people coming from those side streets entering the main march – thereby infringing upon their right of peaceful assembly. Although that wasn’t the intention of the cordons, most people are fearful of crossing a police line and an unknown number of people may have been prevented from entering the march from side streets.

For cordons and barriers that prevent access or egress to be lawful they need to be justified under law and reasonable under the circumstances.  Whilst it may be justified (even if we don’t agree with it) for a police line to prevent protestors storming a building or opposing groups fighting – a line that prevents people joining a peaceful march is not.

Secondly, the presence of police makes people fearful.  Protests that are led by rows of police horses and surrounded by police lines are less likely to be seen as safe or friendly by citizens observing them as they pass by or watching them on the news.  It projects a view that this protest is dangerous or ‘could turn violent’. This is often deliberately telegraphed via and reinforced by the media.  Indeed police made public pronouncements in the media in the days leading up to the rally suggesting parents not bringing children to this protest.  “Victoria Police warn of Black Lives Matter protest violence” said one headline, all of which serves to deter participation, and makes protests smaller and more manageable.

Police presence connotes danger and criminality.  When police assess a protest as  ‘risky’ or ‘dangerous’ and surround it with horses and uniforms they project the idea that this protest cannot be trusted and needs to be controlled.

For popular movements to grow they must tap into widely shared societal values and draw greater numbers of ordinary people into their sphere. Popular support is a social movement’s greatest source of power to change and influence.

Police deter and alienate by their presence. When police surround a protest they effectively cut it off from one of its primary sources of support and sustainability; people.    Protests, rallies and marches can and should feel like festivals, popular, grassroots people’s events that bring people together and draw people in.  People who are sympathetic should be able to freely join in. Celebratory, angry or solemn they should express power and feel powerful.

It is a credit to the organisors and everyone who attended on Sunday that, despite the relentless conservative backlash against the #BLM movement, threats from the racist far right and the hundreds of police at every point,  the rally and march remained large, powerful and successful.

Anthony Kelly

Anthony is a member of Melbourne Activist Legal Support and the organiser of multiple Legal and Human Rights Observer teams since the World Economic Forum protests in 2001. These views are his own. 

* Upon request from the organisers, MALS fielded a team of seven Legal Observers who were present at the BLM protest from 12pm to 3.00pm.

 

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Occupy Policing: The Eviction of Occupy Melbourne

Inspired by the global call for action by the Indignados movement in Spain, the protests and revolutions across the Arab World and the Occupy Wall Street protests in New York City, activists organised to launch Occupy Melbourne in City Square on 15 October 2011. Occupy Melbourne sought to transform City Square into a ‘common’ space of political demonstration where people could learn, discuss and demonstrate about issues of concern. In particular, the abuses of political and corporate power, globalised neo-liberalism, the imposition of austerity, and the privatisation of public services.

Six days later, in the early hours of Friday 21 October 2011, Occupy Melbourne protesters were requested by Melbourne City Council to leave City Square. A few days earlier, Lord Mayor Doyle claimed that the protesters had a ‘right to protest’ but that this right was time-restricted. ‘A week’, claimed Doyle, ‘was a reasonable time for their mindless shriek of protest’. Assistant Commissioner Fontana was reported as saying: ‘They’ve [protesters] had more than ample time to make their point in terms of what their protest is about and I think it’s time to give the City Square back to the citizens of Melbourne.’ If it is to be meaningful, any political ‘right to protest’ needs to protect how protesters make their point. Continuous protest in the form of an ‘occupation’ was central to the mode of protest that the Occupy Movement took. Placing time restriction on this defeats the specific objective of the global Occupy movement. Therefore many protesters remained in the City Square, and others joined them in asserting the ‘public’ nature of the Square and the right to be in and create open spaces for political demonstration and communication. The Square was fenced off from protesters, and basically surrounded by police.

At around 11:30am, Victorian Police officers from the Public Order Response Team in groups of 4–6 officers advance towards Occupiers and physically remove them one by one, carrying or dragging them out of City Square. Occupiers who have linked arms are wrenched out of that formation. Over 100 people are removed in this way from City Square. Communal and private property was removed from the site. Prior to this violent eviction from City Square a crowd of hundreds gather to watch and support protesters in the Square.

screen-shot-2017-01-08-at-10-01-38-amOne year on from the controversial eviction ‘Occupy Policing: A Report into the Effects and Legality of the Eviction of Occupy Melbourne from City Square on 21 October 2011‘ is highly critical of the authorities—Melbourne City Council and Victoria Police—who authorised and effected the eviction. The Report documents the personal stories of people who took part in the Occupy Melbourne protests and their experiences of policing. It complements these personal stories with an account of the relevant law. The Report was published by the Occupy Melbourne Legal Support Team (‘OMLST’) and is endorsed by the Flemington and Kensington Community Legal Centre, Fitzroy Legal Service, the Federation of Community Legal Centre and the National Police Accountability Network.

The Report documents the harmful effects of this policing operation both on individuals and also on the capacity and willingness of people to engage in political dissent. ‘Today my whole perception of what freedom means to me in Australia was turned on its head as I witnessed the scariest brutality I have ever seen police conduct’, Emily, 37, stated to the OMLST. The effects of such violence can be traumatising. Many protesters at Occupy Melbourne were new to activism and had no previous experiences of the violence inflicted in the name of ‘public order’. Protesters’ statements collated in the Report speak of the terror experienced from policing operations, including mounted police charging through the protest and the use of dog squads. The Report documents physical injuries sustained in the policing of Occupy Melbourne, cuts, grazes and bruises as well as serious injuries including broken noses, black eyes and back injuries. It also documents longer-term psychological effects. ‘For a while I would feel a wave of anxiety/panic come over me whenever I walked past or saw a police officer’, Sasha, 25, told the OMLST. The Report also argues that such violence has broader political effects in that it has a ‘stifling’ effect and acts as a deterrent to people joining and participating in movements for progressive social change.

The Report examines the various legal bases used to justify the eviction of Occupy Melbourne; breaches of local law; trespass in a public place; common law ‘breach of the peace’ powers, and; controversial statutory ‘Move-On’ powers. The Report finds that none of these bases are substantiated, and that the forceful removal of Occupy Melbourne protesters by Victoria Police and Melbourne City Council appears to have been unlawful.

These findings endorse the comments made by Liberty Victoria President Spencer Zifcak who described the legal grounds relied upon by Melbourne City Council and Victoria Police as ‘flimsy’ and ‘uncertain’. Its analysis highlights the problematic nature of police use of breach of the peace powers to justify repressive action, and points to how breach of the peace powers give police large amounts of discretion and have been used by police to instigate ‘order’ and suppress dissent, especially because these laws are difficult to challenge on the spot.

The use of force in removing Occupy Melbourne protesters from City Square and policing the subsequent protest in the Central Business District shocked the national and international community. Occupy Melbourne protesters were the first in the Occupy movement globally to be subjected to a violent policing intervention. The Report argues that there is ample evidence available as a matter of public record of excessive and unnecessary use of force. The Report documents police use of bodily force such as grabbing and dragging protesters by the neck, legs, arms; throwing and pushing protesters to the ground; punching and kicking protesters, including in the face; use of chokeholds and pressure points; and kneeing protesters in the face and groin. It further argues that such use of force arguably breaches legislative restrictions on the use of force including Victoria Police’s own internal guidelines and that individual police officers need to be held accountable for these breaches. The Report also documents the use of chokeholds, horses and OC spray in ways which were both harmful and arguably in breach of internal guidelines.

Through the course of the morning much larger numbers of Melbournians gathered in the Central Business District. Some gathered to support, some to observe, and some to demonstrate against the forcible removal and policing of Occupy Melbourne. Between 11:45 and approximately 5pm, this protest was pushed by police up Swanston Street, along Lonsdale and Russell Streets. During the afternoon, police used ‘snatch squads’ to grab people—some who appeared to be protest ‘leaders’ and others who were simply bystanders on their lunch break—from the street. Over the afternoon, approximately 100 people were taken into police custody. Protesters were taken to police stations including St Kilda, Heidelberg, St Kilda Road, North Melbourne, Moonee Ponds, Altona, Melbourne Custody Centre and Moorabbin. Others protesters were held for shorter periods. Some protesters were driven away from the Central Business District and released in seemingly random locations, including a paddock in Altona. A large proportion of protesters were held in custody for many hours, both in brawler vans and at police stations across Melbourne. The conditions of confinement were inadequate. The Report argues police were arguably acting outside of their legitimate power and internal guidelines in detaining people pursuant to ‘breach of the peace’ powers. It finds that the actions of police in detaining approximately 100 people on 21 October 2011 may well have exceeded their lawful powers and constituted false imprisonment.

One year after the events of the eviction, as far as the OMLST has been able to ascertain, no protesters have been charged with trespass or with any violent offences relating to 21 October 2011. One year later, the authorities which authorised the eviction and the policing operation have not been held accountable for their actions, individual police officers who acted contrary to guidelines on use of force also have yet to be held accountable for their actions. One year later, it is urgently time for an independent investigation to document and assess the events of the 21 October 2011 in order to authorise such accountability processes. As Tamar Hopkin, Principle Solicitor, Flemington and Kensington Community Legal Centre writes in her forward to the Report, such an independent inquiry is ‘not only necessary to restore the community’s faith that the rule of law still operates in Victoria, but is required under international human rights law where allegations of human rights abuses have been made.’

The Report can be downloaded from the Resources page here.

Julia Dehm and Sara Dehm