Waiting in security check queues is really frustrating. Whether you’re waiting in a queue to get into a club or a festival if you’re 18 and just out for a laugh sometimes you wonder what they’re looking for when you flash them your wallet or flick open your clutch. But you’re used to the wait and you know it’ll be over soon. Maybe you know the bouncers or the girl on the door and you have a chat on your way in.
How would you feel if the every second or third person in the queue was being patted down by police along the wall of the club- from the door down to the kebab place? You’re asked to put your hands on the wall, spread your legs, and let the dogs and the officers go over you- thoroughly. They tip your bag on the ground and shift through the contents. Coins and keys go everywhere down the street. Not finding anything illegal, the officer starts to search your hair. You got off lucky- your drinking buddy has been taken away for a strip search.
After all this you don’t even get a stamp on your wrist and a token for cheap drinks before midnight. All that you get is permission to carry on your walk down the street- until the next patrol which ‘doesn’t like the look of you’ decides it’s time for another random search.
This scenario may seem far-fetched. Maybe it seems like something you read about in the World News- but unless the Criminal Investigation Amendment Act is stopped it is coming to Perth.
The name ‘Criminal Investigation Amendment Act’ is misleading. In reality it has little to do with criminals, and even less to do with investigations. The proposed “stop and search” legislation has no proven or even suggested benefit in preventing crime or aiding police work.
What this legislation will do is remove the requirement of ‘reasonable suspicion’. Currently if a police officer wants to search you, the officer must be able to show they had ‘reasonable suspicion’ that you may be concealing objects pertaining to a crime.The removal of the need for ‘reasonable suspicion’ does nothing but legalize unreasonable searches.
The police already have extensive powers to search people. If challenged they must be able to provide a reason for the search- this can be a pretty flimsy reason, but a reason all the same. This legislation- proposed by State Police Minister Rob Johnson and Premier Colin Barnett- will totally remove any legal protection you may have if you want to protest a search. Areas in which these searches will take place are to be designated by the Police Commissioner without any parliamentary scrutiny and leaving you with no legal protection.
Do not be under the false impression that this will only occur in Northbridge. These laws will affect us all. The ‘stop and search zones’ can be designated absolutely anywhere. Police Minister Rob Johnson has mentioned that he’d be willing to have them in his electorate of Hillarys. The area around the Cottesloe and OBH hotels will be targeted. All of you who like to get a little boozed in Claremont best stay aware- Clubba is an obvious target. Let’s not forget the possibility of Wellington Gardens or Claremont showgrounds being a designated search area- this would cover all of your movements around or in any music festivals held there.
You might not even be out partying and get searched. You could be wandering back from Fresh Provisions to watch movies in your trackpants and be stopped and searched. These laws will affect you no matter where you live- it be it Fremantle, Rockingham, Subiaco or Joondalup.If you do get searched be careful to keep your temper. If a male police officer insists on a lengthy patting down of your girlfriend’s back pockets, for example, do not try to push him away. If he gets bruises or a scratch you will be put in jail under W.A’s recent legislation establishing mandatory sentencing for assault against a police officer.
There is one false argument supporting this legislation- the claim that it will ‘increase safety’. This argument fails miserably in several ways.
Firstly- police already have wide-ranging abilities to search people. Unless police officers intend to stop every single person on the street they will still need to use their skills to decide who to search. Deciding who should be searched currently requires ‘reasonable suspicion’. Do police officers now also require the ability to perform ‘unreasonable’ searches as well?
Secondly- the idea that designated areas will be ‘search zones’ will create a situation where people will simply stop going to those areas. This will be devastating to tourism and business. For years politicians have been trying to create cultural and tourism centers in Fremantle, the city, and Northbridge. Those of us who want to avoid being harassed by police will stop going to these areas.
Another unsavory effect will be that whatever criminal activity may be present will be pushed around Perth. Every few months the police will decide to designate a new ‘zone’ to chase down the criminal behavior that they scared away from the last ‘zone’. This creates a situation in which the police will constantly be having to fight crime in unfamiliar terrain. Previously safe areas will become dangerous. A similar effect was seen when the curfews for youth were put in place in Northbridge and Fremantle. Homeless or troubled youths did not suddenly decide to go home to bed. Rather they were pushed further out into suburbs where support groups could not find them and the police did not know them.
Thirdly- a safe community requires the people to trust in police officers. Unfortunately this legislation will greatly decrease respect for police and diminish trust in their abilities. Searches based on stereotype rather than suspicion will increase. The police force is a cross-section of the larger community and inevitably there will be some officers who will be prejudiced. Racial, sexual, physical or gender profiling will occur. Even if only a fraction of police abuse this legislation the psychological effect upon the victims and in turn upon the community will be huge. All police officers in uniform will be, unfortunately, tarred with the same brush. The few who abuse this power will create impossible working situations for those who should rightly have our respect.
In the UK the removal of reasonable suspicion was enacted as a counter-terrorism measure under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000. In 2009 the UK police force decided to repeal officers’ ability to search without reason. Assistant Commissioner John Yates, said of the laws that they reversed fundamental human rights, damaged community relations, and alienated some communities.
The decision to stop officers being able to search whoever they like was not made by some left-wing hippy activist student. John Yates is the Scotland Yard’s Counter Terrorism Chief.Furthermore it has been revealed that only 6 out of every 10, 000 searches lead to arrest. A 0.0006% arrest rate hardly justifies the harassment, embarrassment, and a total removal of the civil rights of an entire population.
We might only just be introducing stop and search laws after the UK has realized what a big mistake they are, but WA is an Australian leader in oppressive laws. Other states look to us as an example of what tyrannical legislation can be brought in. Mandatory sentencing, confiscation of vehicles and attacks on freedom of association are all parts of the great Western Australian tradition of wanting to be seen as « tough on crime ». The bidding war to be seen as the « toughest on crime » can be seen at all points along the political spectrum. However it has reached new heights under the Barnett government.
These ideas do not come out of a vacuum. They are most definitely not unique to the Liberal Party. In Victoria, under a Labour Government, legislation of this kind is being considered. These laws, which would be ridiculous if they weren’t so dangerous, are part of a zeitgeist in which you also have your part. I am sure you have all seen a report or two with a headline such as « TERROR ON THE STREETS OF PERTH ». Contrary to what these reports would suggest, there has been no increase in crime in the past decade- including assaults. Nor is juvenile crime on the rise. Even if we are to believe the breathless and panicky media reports, what are we to make of the fear campaign about the infamous « one punch death » problem? How are police searches meant to aid in this problem- will they be searching everyone’s pockets for the presence of fists?
We Will Not Live In Fear
We cannot live in fear of our city. Our streets are not war zones. What crime that there is will be better reduced by spending money on police training, equipment, prevention services, drug rehabilitation, support for youths and homeless ; and better training and regulation of security services. Unfortunately for the general public proposing oppressive legislation that creates the appearance of being « tough on crime » is cheaper and easier than actually applying thought and money to the problem.
What you must do now is make it harder for your rights to be taken away from you.
‘Search For Your Rights’ is a bipartisan organization dedicated to creating a unified opposition to this draconian legislation and raising awareness about how to protect your rights. At the time of writing (a month before publication) we have about 2,200 members of all types of political apathy or affiliations; and a legal, publicity, distribution and management team of 51 volunteers- but we always need your help to reach more people. We distribute approximately 3,000 flyers a week outlining this legislation and why it is wrong. We have a parliamentary petition for you to sign, and addresses for you to send angry emails to. We are linked with several legal services (including the Murdoch based group SCALES). We know that many young people don’t know what their rights are, and we want to try and change that. Please find us and help out with the campaign- we welcome all comers.
In November last year Police Minister Rob Johnson said “I get people coming up to me all the time almost every day of the week saying, ‘Good on you Rob, you’re doing a great job, you stick in there don’t let the bastards grind you down.’ But I can tell you I have not had one person come up to me and say, ‘Minister, Rob,’ whatever they want to call me, ‘I think you’re wrong about this, this that and the other’. Since then Search For Your Rights has been doing everything possible to make sure we are the ‘bastards who grind him down’. If Mr Johnson still believes that no-one opposes this legislation he is leading a very isolated existence.