Anger over broadened police powers to search people
The Geelong Advertiser, December 18th, 2009
A GEELONG lawyer has slammed new laws that allow police to search people in designated public areas as an “outrageous breach of human rights”.
The laws, which came into effect on Wednesday, give police sweeping powers to search people at random, including strip searches.
James Farrell, who works for pro-bono legal organisation PILCH, said evidence showed such laws did nothing to prevent crime.
“Rather than pretending to be tough on crime by introducing ineffective measures, government should base policies on sound evidence that will improve community safety and outcomes for individuals,” he said.
Under the legislation:
POLICE can search anybody in a “designated area” even if officers do not have any reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing and can proceed to a strip search if the circumstances warrant it.
ANY area where there has been an incident of violence involving a weapon in the past year can be deemed a designated area; as can any place where police suspect there may be trouble; or any major event precinct.
A NEW offence of disorderly conduct has been created, with $234 on-the-spot fines.
Mr Farrell said the legislation included provisions to strip search minors in “mystery” designated areas.
“There was a bit of a misconception around that these places were going to be advertised and seven days notice given, but there is provision in the legislation that they do not have to be advertised,” he said. “So you can be walking down the street in front of your house and be asked to undergo a search.”
Police and Emergency Services Minister Bob Cameron said laws enabling searches for weapons had been strengthened to help protect police.
“All these new laws provide the police with pre-emptive tools designed to diffuse situations and deter unacceptable behaviour so Victorians can safely enjoy public places in peace,” he said.
“These critical new reforms will boost Victoria Police’s ability to deal with drunkenness, disorder in public places and violence.”
Mr Farrell said the legislation included hefty new fines for the “vague” new offence of disorderly conduct and for existing offences of drunk and disorderly and drunk.
“We can now be slogged $234 for walking home from the pub,” he said.
“The new offence of disorderly conduct is not defined and relies upon the subjective and arbitrary judgment of individual police officers.”