More than a dozen officers are said to have gathered in a common room at Mt Druitt Police station in the Blacktown Local Government Area (LGA), which is currently an LGA of concern and subject to strict lockdown rules.
Photos uploaded to a police social media page showed the officers decorated with balloons and streamers to share platters of food, in a gathering to celebrate LGBTIQIA+ awareness.
A caption on one of the images stated, “’Happy Wear it Purple Day. Follow your rainbow and start the conversation”.
The images were deleted from social media shortly after they were posted.
In the eyes of many, the gathering shows a brazen disregard for the very orders these officers are strictly enforcing on the community.
The Blacktown LGA has one of the highest rates of COVID cases since Sydney’s Delta outbreak began in mid-June.
The NSW Police Force is now conducting an “internal review” into the incident, although no fines or court attendance notices have been issued to the allegedly offending officers or workplace.
Under the current Public Health Order, emergency workers such as police officers are exempt from the rules against gatherings if this is required to perform their duties.
There is a strong argument that gathering at a station for such a celebration falls outside the exemption.
One officer can be seen in the photos not wearing a mask, which is a breach of the Public Health Order unless the officer has an exemption.
Under current lockdown orders, gatherings at home are not permitted, and only two people from different households can be together outdoors.
Masks are mandatory in indoor settings and many outdoor settings, other than homes.
Failing to adhere to these restrictions can attract a hefty fine and/or being sent to court to face up to six months in prison.
Workplace gatherings are discouraged
In recent weeks the Chief Health officer, Dr Kerry Chant has reiterated the importance of workplaces to consider their COVID-safe plans.
“Make sure you are not sharing the tea room, you are wearing masks, you have four-metre density and make sure you do not attend when you have symptoms”, she told the media.
No requirement to vaccinate
To date, police officers have not been designated as an industry that is required to vaccinate against COVID-19.
This is despite such mandates being imposed on a range of other workplaces including quarantine workers, aged care workers and some healthcare staff, as well as construction workers.
Many see this as an anomaly given that police are regularly in contact with both each other and members of the public, including physical contact when they are required to perform a search or an arrested.
At a time when individuals and businesses are at their wits end after many weeks lockdowns, the conduct of police as well as their apparent special treatment by the NSW Government has many upset and even angry.
Community is fed up
Greater Sydney is in its 10th week of lockdowns, while the remainder of the state is in week three.
There is currently no clear end in sight, with Premier Gladys Berejiklian continually changing the vaccination targets and failing to make any clear announcements about when lockdowns will come to an end.
Meanwhile, businesses are closing down on a daily basis, the mental health of both adults and children is suffering, and the economy as a whole is in steady decline.
Police have been heavily criticised for their lack of compassion during the pandemic, especially their heavy-handed approach to enforcement.
Many believe documented acts like throwing people to the ground for not wearing a mask are unnecessary, and can indeed amount to assault due to the use of excessive force in contravention of legislative safeguards such as section 231 of the Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act 2002 as well as common law cases which make clear that arrest should only be used as a last resort.
Section 231 provides that police are only permitted to “ use such force as is reasonably necessary to make the arrest or to prevent the escape of the person after arrest”.
Yet, post after post shows police apparently using far greater force than appears to be required.
Focus on Western Sydney
Police have also been criticised over their disproportionately harsh enforcement in Western and South-Western Sydney.
Social media posts regularly show hoards of people attending places like Bondi Beach without much of a police presence, while posts of the less affluent Western and South-Western Sydney show below in large number sweeping through the suburbs.
And figures support these claims of disproportionality – with police issuing far more COVID fines in the West and South-West than in the affluent Northern and Eastern suburbs, even prior to the latest lockdown.
Earlier this week, at least 79 anti-lockdown protests were held across New South Wales, during which 153 people were arrested and nearly 600 issued with fines.
The frustration and anger of significant sections of the community is only compounded when those who are empowered to enforce the law, and do so with little compassion or tolerance, are given special treatment and flout those laws themselves.