In light of the horrific assault in St Kilda which saw an officer “ragdolled” and his head smashed into the ground, the Australian Federal Police Association (AFPA) are calling on the ACT Government to install stronger penalties for those who assault police officers in the ACT.
The St Kilda assault occurred on the same weekend as an assault on the NSW Central Coast, which saw two police officers bashed and choked at a drunken buck’s party.
In the ACT, if a police officer is assaulted while on duty, the offender will be charged with common assault, carrying a maximum penalty of two years’ prison, and depending on the severity of the incident, as an assault occasioning actual bodily harm, carrying five years.
The AFPA believes that this isn’t sufficient and are calling for a separate charge to show the seriousness of the issue. AFPA president Angela Smith said she has seen, first-hand, officers being assaulted and believes the conviction should match the crime.
“Assaulting a police officer or an emergency services worker is extremely serious and the common assault conviction on someone’s criminal record isn’t sufficient for this offence,” Ms Smith said.
“The conviction can be easily explained and undersold by the offender, but if there was a dedicated offence, then it’s much harder for someone to explain away. We believe that the offence should be an aggravated offence with a harsher penalty that clearly shows the seriousness of the offence.”
According to Ms Smith, there is mandatory sentencing in Victoria and NSW for assaulting a police officer but not in the ACT.
In NSW, the maximum penalty for assaulting, harassing or intimidating a police officer while on duty is a maximum of five year’s imprisonment, even if the officer did not receive any actual bodily harm. If the incident does cause actual harm, the maximum penalty increases to seven to 14 years imprisonment, depending on the circumstances.
Ms Smith said police cars being rammed and officers being driven at has skyrocketed in the last couple of years and is calling for the Government to follow in Victoria’s footsteps and initiate tougher laws on offenders.
In Victoria, offenders who drive at police or emergency services will now face up to 20 years behind bars under tough new laws by the Labor Government in 2017. Damaging an emergency vehicle can also incur five years maximum imprisonment.
“The AFPA has been fighting for years to have legislation that protects our members when they are on duty,” she said. “Yet again the ACT is miles behind every other jurisdiction. Police are not on the ACT Government’s radar.
“It is only a matter of time till a copper is killed. I don’t understand why the ACT Government has a really poor attitude towards its police officers who are trying to keep this community safe.”
Liberal MLA and Shadow Police Minister Giulia Jones echoed the AFPA’s call for serious penalities.
“Our police officers selflessly put their own safety on the line to protect Canberrans and enforce ACT laws. Sadly, it’s not uncommon for officers to become victims of violence in the course of their duties,” Ms Jones said.
“There needs to be strong protections in place to support officers who are attacked on the job. Currently, that’s just not the case. There should be serious penalties for people who assault police officers.”