Tasmanian Police Association welcomes tougher penalties for assaults on off-duty officers

Police Minister Rene Hidding and Police Association President Pat Allen.

Police Minister Rene Hidding and Police Association President Pat Allen.

Tasmania’s Police Association has come out in support of a proposed change to the state’s sentencing laws to allow for greater protection for off-duty officers.

The association’s president, Pat Allen, said he welcomed news the state government would amend current legislation to include mandatory sentencing for assaults on police, even when they are not in uniform.

The announcement from Police Minister Rene Hidding on Wednesday followed a campaign launched by The Examiner.

The campaign was sparked by a targeted attack on a Longford police officer which saw him coward-punched at a pub in Carrick.

The law, however, did not include assaults on off-duty police and the attack on the officer was considered to be common assault, which does not carry a minimum mandatory sentence.

Mr Allen said it was “only fair” that the current mandatory sentencing legislation included both on-duty and off-duty officers.

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“Police are subject to scrutiny both at work and in their private lives. We are also subject to disciplinary action whether on or off-duty and there is a public expectation that we will intervene in life-threatening and serious matters whether on or off-duty,” Mr Allen said.

“In other words, you are never really off-duty and no person or their families should be subjected to attacks, physical or otherwise because of a role that they undertake. We thank the Minister and The Examiner for their efforts in relation to this issue.”

HOW WILL IT WORK?

The proposed amendment to the Sentencing Act 1997 would see a minimum mandatory sentence for those convicted of causing serious bodily harm to off-duty police officers.

The punishment is in line with the current six-month minimum mandatory sentence which applies to assaults on police “in the execution of their duty”.

RELATED: Tasmanian Police Minister announces mandatory sentencing for assaults on off-duty officers

An exception will be if a defendant can prove in court that the offence was not a targeted attack on a police officer because of their role.

WHY DOES IT NEED TO HAPPEN?

Since the launch of The Examiner’s Enough is Enough campaign last month, police officers, firefighters, SES workers and community leaders have spoken out in support of both the officer who was attacked and the suggestion to introduce new penalties.

One of those supporters was former Tasmania Police Detective Inspector John Warren.

While Mr Warren was never personally attacked, he said his wife was abused both at their home and at her place of work. The first time she was outside doing the gardening while Mr Warren was inside studying for his Inspectors Exam.

“A car load full of guys pulled up and starting yelling abuse, knowing she was a copper’s wife,” Mr Warren said.

“I heard it from inside that’s how loud it was and I came running out but they had gone … I actually went looking for them in my car but unfortunately they had managed to get away.”

The second incident saw a “bikie” approach Mrs Warren at her work. The man told her “we know who you are and who your husband is and we know where you live”.

Former Tasmania Police Detective Inspector John Warren.

Former Tasmania Police Detective Inspector John Warren.

“You sort of accept the fact that once you become a police officer you put yourself in those situations sometimes, not that you want to,” he said.

An “old-school copper”, Mr Warren said if a detective was threatened “back in the day” he would have simply gone and had a word with the “crook” himself. But after 38 years on the job and nearly a decade retired, he said the relationship between police and the community had changed.

“It’s the culture we live in now, there’s just no discipline anymore and that’s the problem,” Mr Warren said.

Reacting to the recently highlighted case of an assault on a Longford officer, Mr Warren said a change in how people treated police was “long overdue”.

“I think things in my opinion have got to change right around the country in terms of law and order,” he said.

HOW CAN YOU BE INVOLVED?

The Examiner will continue the conversation around respect for the state’s police and other emergency service workers. Take a stand and sign at change.org/p/tasmanian-government-enough-is-enough.