CLA questions why ‘fishing’ police lock down entire town

By Bill Rowlings, CEO CLA

Civil Liberties Australia’s concerns over police exceeding their legal powers and heavy-handed closing down of country towns has made the pages of The Mercury, Hobart.

Mercury journalist Helen Kempton reported that Tasmania Police had been forced to defend its actions in the wake of concerns over its recent “saturation operations”.

She was reporting on a letter to the Police Commissioner by CLA Tasmanian Director Richard Griggs, which reflected widespread community concerns after police locked down towns to conduct random stops and searches.

“Civil liberty advocates have written to Tasmania’s Police Commissioner questioning the legality of stop and search operations such as the one which saw a small rural Tasmanian town put into lockdown last week,” she wrote.

Fifteen police officers converged on Cressy, in the state’s North, along with a drug detection dog and the Westpac rescue helicopter. Each entry and exit point to the town was blocked by police.

Left: Story as portrayed in The Mercury online.

Commander Brett Smith said Cressy was chosen because it was a “choke point” for people using the Highland Lakes Road to move between Launceston and Hobart without attracting police attention, Kempton reported. Over the 2½-hour operation, minor drug offences, traffic infringements and liquor offences were detected.

“The interaction with people was friendly and professional. Saturation operations are one of a range of strategies police use to catch criminals,” Commander Smith said.

“It is prudent policing and a bit like fishing. You don’t know what you’ll catch until you put a line in the water.”

Tasmania Police said the Cressy operation was “standard practice” and such operations would continue across the state at “random locations and at random times.”

CLA Tasmanian Director Richard Griggs said he was not aware of any other state carrying out random police crackdowns on an entire town or suburban population, Kempton reported.

“Mr Griggs has written to Commissioner Darren Hine asking him to re-evaluate the lockdown approach,” she wrote. (See letter below).

Griggs wrote that members of the public had contacted CLA over the police lockdown, concerned about the arbitrariness of shutting down towns at random, the heavy-handed use of police dogs and helicopters and intercepting all vehicles entering or leaving the town of about 9000 people.

Querying how police powers are being used

“Police powers to stop, search and detain people are necessary to help keep the community safe. In this instance, however, the community and CLA are concerned police powers may not be being used appropriately and we seek further information and clarification,” Griggs wrote

Commissioner Hine said a spike in crime in northern Tasmania had led to certain areas being targeted, according to Klempton.

Hine said the success of those lockdowns — which included one in the Launceston suburb of Ravenswood earlier last month — had varied.

“It is a tactic that is used right around the world in law enforcement and is about making our community safe,” he said. “We will use our resources to make sure that we hold perpetrators to account. We also want to deliver a message that we could be anywhere at any time so people think about drink driving, drug driving or carting around stolen property or firearms.”

He said some firearms had been taken off the street through the crackdowns.

“When we say lockdown it is about making sure we’re checking people coming in and out of the town. It’s not as if they can’t leave and go about their business,” Commissioner Hine said. “They’ll go through random checks and some are searched and some are not searched.” the Police Commissioner is reported as saying.

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