Tough to cop being fun police

Playground joy ban hard to take

Published by the Herald Sun on 18 August 2021

By Wayne Gatt, TPAV Secretary

COVID has challenged every Victorian in every conceivable way.

People are doing things they never thought they’d have to do, like home-schooling, living alone, not working, cancelling holidays, missing weddings, funerals and celebrations; the things that make us who we are.

It’s challenged my members personally, like all of you, and professionally too.

When Victorians have wanted to go further than 5km from their house, there was the spectre that they would be caught and fined by police.

Our members greeted you at metro and regional checkpoints during the ring of steel, have been called upon to police mask wearing, along with an array of other Covid-specific restrictions that have dogged Victorians.

Many of the rules have been unpopular.

The rulemakers don’t often hear the criticism first-hand.

The enforcers of those rules, though, certainly do.

Police are now tasked with enforcing a curfew no one has welcomed, and to prevent families going to playgrounds that bring them joy.

The latter part of that sentence is hard to write. It’s even harder to imagine.

I hope our members do not have to ever actively enforce this ban on playgrounds.

I hope that in a situation in which someone is found to be doing the wrong thing at a playground, understanding, compassion and discretion would prevail in their dealings.

What I fear will come of this restriction is a child asking why they can’t go to their favourite playground and a parent telling them it’s because the police won’t let them, or asking what will happen if they do go to a park and being told the police will arrest them.

There are many unpalatable things about policing that our members readily accept they will have to do when they graduate from the academy; stopping families from going to playgrounds has never been one of them.

None of our 18,000-plus members will ever want to go to work to take someone away from a playground.

They are not robots.

They are parents themselves and members of the community, often of the community they police. In tough times, communities have always looked to their police for support, advice and help.

Covid-19 has brought to our police a level of community enforcement that we never expected or asked for and certainly didn’t want. Still, we accept it’s a part of a difficult job, particularly in a pandemic or crisis.

I’ve spoken to many police over the last few days.

When “big announcement” press conferences happen and Victorians are digesting what they can no longer do, our members are processing what they now have to do.

One member contacted me immediately after the Monday press conference announcing the latest suite of restrictions, to tell me that his six-year-old daughter watched the press conference and cried when she heard that playgrounds were going to be closed again.

Her small daily window of hope, in lieu of seeing friends at school, had just closed.

She knew what it meant and her father knew who would be called on to enforce it.

This is not to blame governments for doing what’s required to keep people safe.

It’s to highlight the daunting prospect of wandering through parks and gardens and enforcing recreation, and the cumulative effect of being the enforcer of unpopular and deeply restrictive rules for a prolonged period, and the lasting effect it will have on how a community views its police.

The average, communityminded, selfless Victorian has every right to feel cheated by a dangerously entitled few.

Our members have no such issue investigating and prosecuting the people that we know have got us here, kept us here and continue to pull victory from our fingertips.

They are the people we should target and need to target for the safety of all of the community.

Those that look for every loophole, those who view themselves as more important than their neighbour, those too blinded by self-importance to ever appreciate or care about the hardships and heartache suffered by people they don’t know.

I’m not going to lie, this Covid thing has taken us a little while to get used to; it’s been new for us, we have been learning and we have made mistakes along the way.

In the main, though, I think we have found a reasonable balance that has meant we can work with the community and police it with compassion and empathy.

We can’t stop doing that, no matter how hard this gets, because it is the permission of our community that provides our “licence” to police.

This is a principle as old as policing itself.

So, you will see my members in parks and in gardens.

They will be there to keep you safe and to enforce the government’s rules.

They will be concerned for you and wanting the best for us – a Covid free and safe us.

When you see them, as you exercise lawfully, walking your kids or your dog, know that beneath the uniform is someone just like you.