An out-for-blood police union has slammed the organisers of Summernats after “antisocial” behaviour led to the early closure of the track and dispersed spectators and drivers across the community.
The Australian Federal Police Association (AFPA) yesterday (9 January) issued a scathing critique of the decision to stop cruising within the venue, saying this put police and the community and risk as crowds dispersed around the Territory to gather elsewhere.
On Saturday (7 January), the cruising circuit at EPIC was shut at around 6 pm due to dangerous behaviour, including drivers refusing to listen to the directions of security staff and some spectators entering the track.
Some reports have surfaced of drivers deliberately bringing their vehicles into contact with each other, but these are unconfirmed.
ACT Policing said this led to increased poor behaviour as festival attendees – both spectators and drivers – stopped complying with directions from security staff.
Officers were called in to disperse the crowd and some privately contracted security guards left the venue, which police said resulted in an “understrength security presence”.
They also said the decision to close the circuit early led to crowds gathering in areas like Braddon, Fyshwick, Majura Park and Hume.
Police were also critical of Summernats organisers for a perceived lack of adequate crowd control.
“Events of this nature require an appropriate security response, and ACT Policing is disappointed that organisers were not able to maintain good order inside EPIC,” a spokesperson said.
But the union representing police officers – the AFPA – has gone further, accusing the Summernats organisers of “gross negligence” and placing the community and officers at significant risk.
AFPA President Alex Caruana said poor security-related decisions needed to be addressed before planning future events, with a repeat of Summernats 35 being untenable.
“The organisers need to do much better when it comes to security and stop pushing their problems and poor management onto ACT Policing and the community,” Mr Caruana said.
“ACT Policing resources had to be pulled from other frontline activities to assist on the ground in managing people displaced by the actions of Summernats organisers.
“Our information is that many security guards walked off the job due to safety concerns. I stress that this isn’t the fault of the security guards, but rather the fault of the organisers for not properly resourcing the security arrangements of the event.”
Mr Caruana urged the government to commit to an independent audit of the security arrangements behind Summernats 35 and seek reassurances and commitments from the organisers for future events that this won’t reoccur.
“Gross negligence has resulted in ACT Policing being left to clean up the mess of others,” he said.
“The organisers’ solution to de-escalate the situation and stop the event was to simply push the problem onto ACT Policing and the wider community.
“While managing the issues created by a number of Summernats participants and organisers, ACT Policing members also had to maintain their presence across the Territory doing the job they are paid to do. It’s only by dumb luck that a life-or-death incident didn’t occur during this time; police resources would have been significantly delayed due to the problems selfishly caused by Summernats participants and organisers.”
Summernats co-owner Andy Lopez told Region police had been in the control room when the decision was taken to suspend cruising, but it’s understood the decision to suspend cruising within the venue was ultimately made without consulting police.
Mr Lopez has stressed the vast majority of festival attendees were doing the right thing and he was concerned by the few who had attended solely to cause disruptions.
He said learnings about crowd control would inform next year’s festival plans.
The ACT Government was asked whether it would review the security arrangements for Summernats.
In a statement, a spokesperson said the antisocial behaviour reported on Saturday was disappointing.
“Safety and security arrangements for the event are reviewed with Summernats organisers every year.”