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The militarisation of Victoria Police

ByMolly Murphy
An armoured police vehicle which resembles a military vehicle

The Author

Molly Murphy is a writer, secondary educator and mother of two hailing from Melbourne’s inner west. Having an undeniable love of learning and creative endeavours, she has worked in the craft beer industry, as a record store clerk, and had a long-term career in education. Molly endeavours to improve pedagogical approaches to enhance student engagement and offer equal opportunities to students. Molly is a die-hard St Kilda supporter until the end and is known to have a long debate in the pub with you.

A 35-year-old Victorian man died earlier this week after being taken into police custody. The man had been sprayed with OC (Oleoresin capsicum) ‘pepper spray’ after police arrived at his home in Robinvale, near Mildura on May 29.

The man was armed with a knife, which was the reasoning behind OC spray being administered. Victorian Police are yet to make a statement on why there was a need to use the overwhelmingly large amount of spray that led to the man’s death.

This isn’t a freak accident.

Nor is it a tragic sequence of events that is out of the norm for a situation such as this.

Misuse and overuse of pepper spray within Victorian Police is on the rise and it needs addressing.

Last week it was announced that two Victorian journalists are taking legal action against Vic Police for the use of pepper spray on them when they were reporting on anti-lockdown demonstrations in 2021.

Photographer Luis Ascui attended the anti-lockdown rally in Richmond in September 2021, and Ian Ransom, a sports journalist who at the time was covering demonstrations by Novak Djokovic’s supporters in January 2021, were both unnecessarily sprayed by police.

They weren’t causing harm to anyone nor was there any risk of either becoming violent.

But Vic Police did cause harm, by deploying unnecessary weapons against Ascui and Ransom. A report by the Human Rights Law Centre report on police forces in Australia confirms that ‘members may only use OC spray where they believe on reasonable grounds it is necessary: in situations of violence and serious physical confrontation’. Vic Police used the spray to disperse the crowds and end the protests.

This abuse of power does not seem to be confined only to the conduct of officers. Victorian Mounted Police force are also being exposed for their harm to horses during protests and riots.

Australian animal rights activists are working hard at campaigning for horses to no longer be used in ‘crowd management’ procedures, after the anti-lockdown protests in 2021 resulted in multiple injuries to horses.

The horses often becoming injured as they are used as a barrier between protestors and the police; an issue the police claim creates the need for such brutal force.

Vic Police say that one horse equates to 10 officers on the ground. This suggests that the use of mounted police is to increase physical power and strength. Former Superintendent and current Commander of Intelligence and Covert Support Command, David Clayton said back in 2019, that ‘We respect the right for people to protest peacefully but we will not tolerate anti-social behaviour that disrupts the broader community’. This sentiment couldn’t be further from the truth.

Vic Police and the Victorian Government seem intent on stamping out protests; when they do occur, the police are out in force using unethical methods to stop them. Under the controversial state of emergency and disaster laws brought in during COVID-19, Vic Police were given more power. It’s concerning that these powers are being abused and that policing overreach is continuing to grow. 

The laws currently sway to the side of forgiving and excusing police brutality. Perhaps we need to look to current police training to understand why this brutality is on the rise: Victorian police (and their Queensland counterparts) have long been trained in military tactics and strategy. We now have special operations units that are quasi-military in their functions, structures, procedures, and operational tactics. The purpose of this military-based training is alleged to counter the rise of terrorism.

Protests on the steps of Parliament seem to be far removed from any act of terror, but despite that, pepper spray has been used to disperse crowds.

The lines between the core functions of the military and police are beginning to be unclear, which is only creating a further divide and increasing mistrust between Victorians and the police.

Vic Police are using unreasonable and unnecessary force and power; more preventative measures need to be taken to contain this.  Although death is rare with the overuse of pepper spray, it can still lead to a loss of consciousness, difficulty breathing and choking as common side effects. And the use of any form of excessive force is only going to continue to create a larger systemic power imbalance and abuse of authority

The Victorian government seems afraid of not being able to control people. And the police are a means of retaining control. But as lawyer and former Australian Defence Force (ADF) officer, John Sutton, said in an ABC News interview: ‘Typically, a close ideological and operational alliance between police force and the military has always been associated with repressive regimes’.

Victoria appears to be becoming repressive. It’s as simple as that.

We reached out to Victoria Police for a comment but received no reply.

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