By Ugur Nedim and Sonia Hickey
Military-style M4 semi-automatic rifles have been issued to police officers in time for New Year’s Eve celebrations, and police commissioner Mick Fuller says “we just have to get used to it.”
“I don’t want the public to feel confronted, but I want them not only to be safe, but to also feel safe”, he added.
Officers of the Public Order Riot Squad (PORS) have been armed with the M4’s, doubling the number of long-arm weapons in the hands of police in our state.
And despite conceding that the terrorism threat has remained stable in Australia since 2014, Mr Fuller told reports that members of the public should expect the presence of police officers armed with military-style weapons at all large gatherings, including major events and protests.
Is it necessary?
Police across the state are already equipped with both lethal and non-lethal weapons, from OC spray and Tasers, to batons and pistols, to Long Range Acoustic Devices (LRADS) capable of controlling crowds by using loud piercing sounds, similar to jet engines.
Officers have also been given a range of extra powers to restrict and control protests, and to prosecute protesters, as well as to deal with suspected terrorists, including ‘shoot to kill’ powers and immunity from prosecution during events declared by the police minister as ‘terrorist incidents’ – even if the person or people who are shot do not pose an imminent threat, or if police act negligently or otherwise get it wrong and shoot innocent people.
Considering the existing weapons and powers, many feel that the regular presence of officers resembling soldiers in both uniform and weaponry is intimidating, unnecessary and will do little to deter or avert terrorist attacks. There is also an argument that such a presence may be damaging to public relations, an area in which police forces across Australia have received a battering due to regular reports of brutality and other forms of police misconduct.
There are also those who feel that providing officers with such weapons could do more harm than good by increasing the likelihood of innocent people being harmed or killed during ’emergency situations’, declared ‘terrorist incidents’ and other confrontations.
On the other hand, there are those who feel the attendance of heavily armed police at public events is indeed a deterrence, and that it puts officers in the best position to respond quickly and effectively to threats.
New Year’s Eve
In any event, officers of the PORS will be patrolling New Year’s Eve gatherings across the Sydney metropolitan area, including the Sydney harbour side and Darling Harbour where hundreds of thousands are expected to gather to watch the fireworks, celebrate with friends and family, and countdown to 2018.