The woman took the tampons from a service station, and was caught on camera. She told police that she was stealing the tampons for another person who was too ashamed to buy them, which was “probably true”, according to Constable Brian Evans from Coolgardie Police.
The story made headlines, with many angry or puzzled as to why the woman was hit with such a large fine. Interestingly, the news originally came to the attention of the public when Coolgardie police themselves published it in a tweet, which read:
“Female issued $500 infringement for allegedly stealing an item valued at $6.75 from Caltex.”
But the tweet backfired, and police are facing criticism over their poor choice to fine rather than warn the woman – who has no prior record – as well as telling everyone about it. The tweet has since been removed.
Amy Rust is the founder of Essentials 4 Women SA, a group which helps supply homeless women escaping domestic violence and refugees with sanitary products and underwear. When she heard the news, she wasn’t just astonished at the conduct of police – she decided to do something about it.
She decided to use crowdfunding to raise the money to pay the fine. Her initiative received over double the amount of the fine in a matter of hours. Within 2 days, the amount had reached $3800.
Crowdfunding has been gaining popularity as a way for those who cannot afford to fight for a cause to enlist the help of others.
It has been used for all kinds of causes, both legal and non-legal.
But Ms Rust is having difficulty passing the money on. She asked police to help with giving money to the woman, or at least providing the infringement number to pay off the fine directly. However, the police department and Liza Harvey, the Police Minister, declined to assist – suddenly becoming tight-lipped about the whole matter.
Ms Harvey, who is the Police Minister as well as Minister for Women, stands by the decision to issue a fine, saying that “this government doesn’t apologise for handing out swift punishment of actual consequence.”
Criminal Infringement Notices
Like in NSW, police in WA can choose whether to deal with minor criminal offences by either taking no action at all, issuing a caution or warning, giving a fine or sending them to court.
The option of fining a person by way of a ‘criminal infringement notice’ has been available in NSW for some time.
Proponents of these notices say that they are a win-win: allowing people to avoid a criminal record while easing pressure on the courts.
But there are also disadvantages – including the fact that police don’t have to prove anything before issuing the fines. This means that police are likely to issue notices more freely, knowing that it is highly unlikely that the recipient will elect to contest them in court.
There are also concerns that such fines unfairly impact upon the poor, putting them in great financial hardship. Rust said:
“I am glad that I have never found myself in the position where I can’t afford these items… You would hope that a judge would not have given such a harsh penalty… how can [a fine] that’s 74 times the amount be justified?”
In court, Magistrates have a number of choices of penalty – from fines, to good behaviour bonds or even no penalty and no conviction recorded, where appropriate.