Geoff Douglas, Senior Sergeant – Officer in Charge at West End Police Station responded to questions about how the local police service is responding to Covid-19.
See our Q&A below.
- What has changed for West End Police in the wake of the Covid-19 health emergency?
COVID-19 has not stopped the West End Police, as a front line service, continuing with their business as usual response to calls for service from the community, investigating and following up crime incidents, assisting other front line services, conducting proactive activity aimed at deterring property crime and offences against personal safety in public places, as well as maintaining safety on our road ways. We have needed to modify some of our normal practices like the rest of the community, in terms of maintaining good personal hygiene, practising social distancing when appropriate and utilising proper PPE when attending incidents where there is a risk of exposure to the COVID 19 virus.
What has changed – while there has been a reduction to those business as usual calls for service generally, we are beginning to see an increase in calls for service or complaints from members of the community reporting suspected breaches of the COVID 19 restrictions by other members of the community. Queensland Police Service (QPS) are then obviously obligated to investigate those complaints like any other and determine whether a breach has occurred and whether there’s sufficient evidence and justification to take any formal action.
- The restrictions on movement have been a challenge for us all. How have West End residents been responding? Do you have any messages you would like to convey to residents?
Majority of the community appear to be complying with the government’s directions and restrictions most of the time at this stage. Where there is a common risk of non-compliance is not following the advice to return home immediately once any essential activity has been completed. For example, attending the Davies Park Food Markets to purchase fresh food is still permissible at this stage. But then, however, grabbing a quick coffee or take away food and sitting on a bench or on a picnic rug at the markets to consume the food & drink is not permissible or compliant with the current advice and restrictions. Police attended an occurrence of this happening over the past weekend.
To remove any doubts or misunderstanding of the current restrictions and directions of Queensland’s Chief Health Officer, I’d encourage people to read them at Queensland Health website at health.qld.gov.au
- Some people in West End are worried about those who are homeless or who are rough sleepers. How is West End Police working with other agencies to ensure that these people are treated with dignity, that their needs are being met, and that they are safe?
We are extremely mindful of the impacts of both the COVID – 19 virus and the current restrictions on our vulnerable people within our community, especially those experiencing homelessness. We continue to network with and support community agencies, such as Micah Projects and the Immanuel Mission and rely of their advice in terms of how to best assist those vulnerable persons. West End Police representative Senior Constable Sandi Trembath has been involved regularly in planning meetings with Micah Projects to help us best respond. We also work to support and keep safe the staff and volunteers operating these services while they conduct their outreach and maintain their services during this time.
- Some have expressed concern that the Police have been given unprecedented powers at this time, and that they may abuse that power. We hear the odd story for example of someone reading alone on a park-bench and being moved on by Police. Is that over-reach, or are there genuine reasons for those sorts of responses?
While there have been some specific amendments to the Public Health Act and Regulation very recently in response to the COVID-19 emergency, many of the powers Police may rely on already existed within the Public Health Act 2005. Those refer to powers available to ‘Emergency Officers’, which include police officers, during a declared public health emergency, which was declared in Queensland on the 29th January 2020 by the Minister for Health and Minister for Ambulance Services in response to COVID – 19.
The QPS is extremely mindful that we as a community are experiencing unprecedented times which are causing uncertainty, concern and anxiety to many. With that in mind we will work very hard to ensure the application of these powers and the enforcement of restrictions is done with compassion, patience and understanding. We really are seeking at the outset to have the community’s cooperation when we are called upon to monitor or enforce the current restrictions, to alleviate the need for us to issue infringement notices. Every complaint will be assessed on the individual circumstances.
There will be occurrences, however, where there are individuals who blatantly, knowingly and selfishly disregard the current directions of the Chief Health Officer and these are the circumstances when we are more likely to take enforcement action. I would think the majority of the community who are doing the right thing and adhering to the current restrictions would expect, and be supportive of, police taking action against those individuals who are not and have no justification.
The example of an individual reading alone on a park bench, while the activity may appear to carry a low risk of virus spread or exposure depending on the circumstances, is still not by the definitions provided to us by Government as an ‘essential activity’ and yes I would expect a police officer may have a conversation with that person, remind them of the restrictions and direct them to return home or work, whatever the case may be.
- How are Police protecting their own health and safety at this time?
The same way the rest of the community is being advised to do so. Maintaining good personal hygiene practises, maintaining appropriate social distance or self-isolation if required, staying home from work when we are feeling unwell and using proper personal protection equipment when coming into contact with persons who have been confirmed as having contracted COVID -19 virus.
When we are not working, we are subject to the same restrictions and directions as the entire community.