The law needs to change to protect off-duty police officers – that’s the statement being made by independent MLC Ivan Dean.
The former Northern District commander, Mr Dean said off-duty police being assaulted was a historic issue.
His comments come after a Longford police officer who was coward punched at a Carrick pub shared his story with The Examiner last week.
The officer was attacked because he was a cop, despite being off-duty at the time.
RELATED STORY: Longford officer coward punched “because he was a cop”
“It is a real problem and the case at Carrick was clearly because he was a police officer and that’s just reprehensible and can’t be tolerated,” Mr Dean said.
A police officer for 35 years, Mr Dean said he had been targeted “frequently” throughout his career - even when he was off-duty.
“I was certainly a target on a number of occasions, my kids were targeted … it was infuriating,” he said.
“Police are in a really uncomfortable position because they want to be able to get out and enjoy themselves in the community … I don’t think the law does protect them, it’s just been accepted as part of the job.”
The current legislation, which includes minimum mandatory sentencing, only covers serious assaults on police officers when they are “in the execution of their duty”.
“A police officer is never really off-duty, they can put themselves back on duty at any time,” Mr Dean said.
“If an off-duty officer does something, it’s in the headlines and they are reported as being an ‘off-duty police officer’.”
If the legislation were to be changed, however, Mr Dean said the wording would need to be right.
“Whilst there is a need to protect off-duty officers, the legislation would need to be careful … an officer could use his position to an advantage. There would be a way of wording it.”
TAKE A STAND – SIGN THE PETITION
Launching the Enough is Enough campaign last week, The Examiner is inviting the community to stand behind the state’s frontline workers and demand change.
As part of the campaign, a petition has been created urging the state government to look at the current legislation around assaults on police and consider extending it to provide protection for officers even when they are not in uniform.
The Examiner editor Courtney Greisbach said by signing the petition community members also pledge to lead by example and always treat emergency service workers with respect.
“We hope this message of respect will extend to all aspects of our community,” she said.
Take a stand and sign at www.change.org/p/tasmanian-government-enough-is-enough.
SUPPORTERS OF THE CAMPAIGN
The state’s emergency service workers have thrown their support behind police in the wake of an assault on an off-duty officer.
State Emergency Services Tasmania northern regional manager Mhairi Bradley said emergency service workers in the state would always “stand by and support each other”.
“We find these types of cowardly attacks pretty disturbing,” she said.
“We have a very close and positive working relationship with our police colleagues and they are doing a great service to the community. It’s simply not good enough that they would be targeted just because of their job.”
While the risk of physical assault was generally lower for SES volunteers, Mrs Bradley said it was not uncommon for members of the public to verbally abuse workers.
“There are certainly times when we are dealing with people who might be in shock or extremely stressed and we have had our fair share of verbal assault and just blatant disrespect,” she said.
“When you are assisting the community and copping a spray for it, it can be pretty demoralising.”
SES Tasmania joins former police officers, the police association and the police minister who have spoken out in support of officers who have or will become victims of targeted attacks.
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.”
STATE GOVERNMENT AND OPPOSITION:
After news of the Carrick assault, Police Minister Rene Hidding described it as “particularly disturbing” case.
Mr Hidding told The Examiner he would 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”.
Opposition police spokesman David Llewellyn echoed the minister’s concern.
“Attacks on police, whether they’re on or off-duty, should be condemned,” he said.
“Frontline workers put their lives on the line every day to protect the community and deserve respect in return.”
Last month, the opposition announced a policy to introduce presumptive Post Traumatic Stress Disorder legislation for the state’s first responders.
The state government currently provides $1.5 million annually to enable mental and physical health programs for first responders.