When a Tasmania Police officer is assaulted while on duty, it’s treated as a serious incident.
But what protection is offered to the state’s frontline workers when they are not in uniform?
The question has been raised after a Longford officer was coward punched at the Carrick Inn last year, “because he was a cop”.
Constable Mathew Dunstone was out for a quiet drink when two men approached him and began “sledging” him.
Constable Dunstone did not know the men personally and he had not spoken to them previously.
They made it clear, however, that they knew he was an officer.
“One of the guys saw me going outside and he said to me ‘you go and enjoy a cigarette, there’s blokes down in Risdon who don’t even get to have a cigarette anymore so you go and enjoy yourself’,” Constable Dunstone said.
It was not long after that Constable Dunstone was punched to his face, without warning.
A struggle between the three followed and as a result of the altercation, Constable Dunstone suffered bruising and scratches to his face as well as pain in his ribs.
While he said the injuries were not major, he described the incident as “disappointing”.
“I was off-duty, minding my own business, having a quiet drink and watching the football,” he said.
“I don’t think it was because of me as an individual, it was because I am a police officer and I wear a uniform every day and I stand for something … which they may have had some views on.”
The father-of-three said the incident also affected his family, particularly his wife, Erin Dunstone.
“Being the wife of a police officer has its own worries, without having to wonder if he’s going to be safe when he’s off duty and we’re out in public,” Mrs Dunstone said.
The matter was before the court on Tuesday. Supporting Constable Dunstone in court was Acting Sergeant Sam Lloyd, who said it was sometimes a bigger issue in smaller communities.
“You’re socialising in the same community you’re policing in,” he said.
It’s not the first time a Tasmania Police officer has been the victim of a targeted attack.
In 2013, an explosive device was attached to a police officers car outside of his home in Devonport. In 2007, a marked police car outside an officer’s home on the North-West was fire-bombed.
Assaults on police officers that are considered less serious are known as summary offences and carry a maximum penalty of three years in prison or a fine of up to $14,000.
A person found guilty of a serious assault on a police officer faces a maximum of 21 years in prison.
The legislation, however, refers to an officer who is assaulted “in the execution of their duty”.
Officers need more protection from “gutless attacks”, says Tasmania Police Association president Pat Allen.
“For a long time it’s just been accepted as part of being a police officer,” he said.
“But when you step back and look closely at the issue, it’s not right.”
Mr Allen said police officers faced public scrutiny in their roles, even when off-duty.
“We’re very quick to identify police officers when they are off-duty but are involved in a minor crash, or an incident … police are treated differently,” he said.
“But when it’s the other side, and these idiots are having a go at an officer … more needs to be done. If a politician was targeted or a judge or a magistrate, there would be an outcry.”
Police Minister Rene Hidding said the government was committed to protecting officers, with minimum mandatory sentences for serious assaults on police officers who are on duty.
“The details of this particular case are disturbing and I will be seeking advice as to whether there is a procedural or training issue at play here to ensure an off-duty officer can reasonably expect the same protections as if he or she were on duty,” Mr Hidding said.
“If changes are needed to the legislation to ensure this happens, Tasmanians can rest assured we will make them.”
Two men who assaulted an off-duty police officer at Carrick last year have each been given 98 hours community service.
Bradley Maxwell Charles Heyward, 27 of Carrick, and Mitchell Lee Hanham, 32 of Oaks, appeared in the Launceston Magistrates Court on Tuesday having been found guilty of common assault.
The victim, Constable Mathew Dunstone, was coward punched at the Carrick Inn on June 17.
Handing down her sentence, Magistrate Sharon Cure described the attack as “dangerous, cowardly behaviour”.
Heyward, who Ms Cure described as the aggressor, faced one count of common assault.
He was given three months in prison on top of his community service.
His prison sentence was wholly suspended.
Hanham, who Ms Cure described as the provoker of the situation, faced two counts of common assault.
In addition to community service, he was fined $1500.