#NotWithYou: Why More Weapons for Victoria Police is a Very Bad Idea
In a carefully orchestrated public relations launch on Thursday 22 March, Victoria Police revealed it’s armoury of new repressive weaponry.
The Chief Commissioner of Victoria Police, Graham Ashton has expressed concern about how these weapons will be perceived by the public. “We need the community to be with us on this,” he said.1 Well, we are not and here’s why.
The Operations Response Unit (ORU) received an initial $7.6 million with an ongoing ($35 million) over five years to “improve the management of large scale or high-risk public order incidents.” The Victorian government, as part of its inappropriately named ‘Public Safety Package’ announced this funding back in 2016 and now we see what VicPol ended up buying with it.
These new weapons will be used by the Operational Response Unit (ORU) and distributed from a new hi-tech vehicle that will record evidence and can livestream to an offsite command centre. Most of these weapons have already been in use in some form by specialist units such the Critical Incident Response Team and Special Operations Group and have come out at recent prison protests or hostage scenarios. However this represents a significant rollout to more ‘regular’ public order police.
The only weapon that is totally new for VicPol is the VKS Pepperball firearm (pictured below). A 175 shot semi-automatic rifle that fires capsicum rounds, blunt force pellets the size of marbles or dye markers to brand people for arrest later. These pellets can blind, maim and leave permanent injuries depending where they hit the body. (Check out the demo for it here.) There’s footage of these guns being fired at protesters in Portland Oregan (USA) last year here.
The 40-millimetre rubber bullet launcher so proudly displayed by Superintendent Tim Tully has resulted in significant injuries and fatalities around the world. Just last year a 25 year old protester was killed by a rubber bullet in Paraguay.
Stinger grenades – (pictured below) is a pain compliance, distraction and disorientation device for ‘crowd management’, it may be hand thrown or launched in the general direction of the crowd and may be deployed for ground bursts or aerial bursts at the discretion of the operator – It explodes releasing nine 32-calibre rubber pellets to waist height with a range of five metres.
The Flash/noise distraction grenades designed to shock and disperse crowds are routinely being used in Israel/Palestine and other conflict zones and have maimed children, can burst ear drums and generate dangerous fear and panic in crowds.
In terms of capsicum canisters, that detonate to release a cloud of capsicum, deaths can occur if people and gas gets trapped in a confined area such as in prison cells.
Injuries from Less Lethal Weapons: – Theodore C. Chan, MD, FACEP, Professor of Clinical Medicine, University of California San Diego Medical Center.
Instead of investing in communities these new expensive weapons increase the likelihood of violence against communities that are not valued in Victoria, the incarcerated and the marginalised. They will be used against teenagers at parties, against frustrated prisoners, and against citizens standing up against injustices that the government ignores.
Having observed and documented crowd control policing over the past seven years, Melbourne Activist Legal Support can safely say Victoria Police already deploy riot equipment unnecessarily, inappropriately, dangerously and in ways that infringe upon human rights. We have witnessed OC Spray being used indiscriminately, and against police’s own regulations – on multiple occasions.
Victoria Police have stated that the main purpose for deploying these weapons is to “enhance the safety of community members and our members”. No – these are weapons will be used against Victorian citizens. Independent studies show that riot gear has a destabilising effect at public order events, tending to aggravate and escalate the situation and making it far more dangerous for both community and police. Riot policing generates fear, anger, distrust and disorder.
At an event referred to during the media launch, the Milo Yiannopoulos protests in Flemington in December 2017, MALS Legal Observers witnessed police ignore hours of vitriolic racial and religious abuse of local residents by white nationalist groups, then we saw intensely provocative riot formations deployed against the very people who had experienced the abuse. Many local residents felt they they were under attack by police.
“One man who has lived at the housing estate for 15 years said he had been standing with his arms linked with other residents in a peaceful stand against the right-wing protesters who were taunting them, when they were doused with pepper-spray by police wielding batons.”The Age, 13th December 2017.
Far from justifying the purchase of these weapons, the policing in Flemington that night proved that riot policing makes things worst, and that policing in Victoria is already more intensively focused upon marginalized and ‘less-valued’ communities.
Whenever weapons like this are brought out at protests, kids parties (yes, teenage parties the spill out into the street) or during prison protests, they are routinely misused.
The almost daily misuse of OC spray by Victoria Police is a case in point. These new weapons make the abuse of civil, political and human rights in Victoria more likely and more severe. Under human rights law, any restrictions on protest, and any use of force, must be for a legitimate purpose and be proportionate to that aim. We know from experience that these new weapons will be used without a justifiable purpose, against people posing no threat to police, and in disproportionate ways.
This million dollar purchase by the Victorian government demonstrates the reach of the ever-growing Global Non-Lethal Weapons Market – a multi-billion dollar export industry in repressive technology that fuels conflicts, human rights atrocities and state repression around the world. Law enforcement departments everywhere have been sucked in by the slick marketing of this ‘less-than-lethal’ arms industry. Much of the repressive tech that VicPol purchases is never actually deployed (they have LRAD sound cannons for instance but never used them). Whilst civil and political unrest is very profitable for the companies driving this market, it costs taxpayers millions that could be otherwise spent on people and communities.
If the safety of the Victorian community is indeed the highest priority for Victoria Police – it should look to building trust and accountability. If the Victorian Government is serious about community safety then investing in community resources, infrastructure and support would be far more effective and perhaps a tad less likely to infringe upon Victoria’s own Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities.
Police misconduct, police abuse of power, police pointing guns into crowds and dressed up like robo-cops all serve to destroy trust. Victoria Police already have strained relationships with many sections of our community, do they really want to distance and dehumanise themselves even further?
What The Police’s ‘Non Lethal Weapons’ Can Do To Human Bodies, Tara Culp-Ressler, Think Progress 2014
The Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC) has reported upon the disturbing trend of state governments passing draconian laws that curb civil and political rights and restricting civil society organisations to advocate. The actual or threatened use of these sorts of repressive weapons also impinges upon our civil and political rights. If people stay away from a protest out of fear of police then their right to peaceful assembly is being restricted. If people leave a peace assembly if they see police with weapons then their right to peaceful assembly is being restricted.
So what can we do about it?
The actual use of these new weapons is not guaranteed. Their deployment depends upon the context of the protests, the social and political climate and whether or not these weapons would be seen by media and the wider community as ‘acceptable’, ‘reasonable’ or ‘appropriate’ under the circumstances.
By ‘revealing’ these weapons to sympathetic journalists in such a careful way, and writing to community organisations and human rights bodies that same day, Victoria Police were essentially asking for a social license to use them. It is imperative that they are not given this.
If Victoria Police anticipate a public, media, and political backlash, it will deter the use of these weapons. Likewise, if they perceive, rightly or wrongly, that they may face costly litigation after these weapons are deployed then that may also serve to restrict their use.
The role of legal observers, human rights advocates and activist lawyers will be critical if these weapons are ever deployed against members of the public in Victoria
We are citizens, not enemy combatants. Do not deploy weapons on us. #NotWithYou
This new riot gear is part of the $2 billion Victorian State Government package that includes a massive new training facility for special operations police, a $15 million a ‘state-of-the-art, New York-style’ 24/7 Monitoring and Assessment (surveillance) centre in Melbourne’s CBD.
Also included is a $227 million IT data intelligence program run by SAS Institute Australia which will merge databases and allow predictive tracking that will make the Cambridge Analytics revelations seem relatively benign. Body worn cameras, as well as more than 3100 extra police officers are part of the package. This is all tied up in the Andrews Government’s ‘Community Safety Statement’ which was developed in the context of an Victoria’s ongoing racialised law & order auctions between the major parties.