Police need the equipment they carry to ensure their safety


Picture this scenario: In bed in the early hours of the morning, you are suddenly woken by a crash.

Groggy from sleep, you stumble out of your warm bed, grab your robe and walk towards the front door to investigate, thinking the weather must have taken a turn for the worse and the screen door is swinging in the wind. Turning on the hall light reveals a shadow stretching across the floor and you realise the crash was not the swinging screen door, but was actually breaking glass inside your house.

When faced with an intruder like this, who would you call first? Tasmania Police.

Of course you would call Tasmania Police, because that is who you would instinctively call when your safety is threatened.

And Tasmania Police officers would attend, not knowing what to expect.

Your description of someone being in the house may not indicate to the operator taking your call whether the intruder was armed, dangerous, or even alone.

The police officers that respond would arrive ready for any circumstance, alert and armed. Tasmania is fortunate to have a police force of highly trained officers.

They are armed while on duty, however, my own conversations with police officers show they don't want to use their firearms, but they need them, as well as other items like a baton and pepper spray, for their own protection, and the protection of others.

This is their right under the Work Health and Safety Act 2012, which legislates "... protecting workers and other persons against harm to their health, safety and welfare through the elimination or minimisation of risks..." Barry Prismall's column (The Examiner, June 14), where he asked if police needed "to be so well-armed", skirts around the issue of safety.

Police need the equipment they carry to ensure their safety while undertaking some of the tasks they perform as officers.

This does not make them "ready for war", rather it makes them ready for work.

Our police officers are, at times, threatened with or confronted by violence.

At any point, they may come across an offender with a weapon - perhaps a knife, a handgun or a shotgun, just to name a few - and their lives could be at risk.

Just weeks ago a police officer was killed and another wounded while conducting a routine mid-morning traffic stop in New Zealand.

Those officers did not go to work that day expecting that stopping a car in West Auckland would end in death or injury.

But it does happen, and sadly, thousands of police officers are injured every year in the line of duty across Australia.

The 19 June response to Mr Prismall by Police Association of Tasmania acting secretary Andrew Bennett in The Examiner stated that since November 2019, "we have seen five incidents where our members were seriously injured or threatened by offenders deliberately driving at them. Then there is the threat of active armed offender incidents".

Senior Sergeant Bennett finished by saying "...in the first instance, it will be the uniformed officer, armed with a Glock nine-millimetre pistol" responding to such incidents. This clarified the record, which had to be done because before we start pulling down these officers, and indeed any frontline workers, we should first think about what would happen if they were not around when we needed them.

During the Australian Parliament's last sitting day on 18 June 2020 I, along with seven of my Senate colleagues, co-sponsored Senator Matt Canavan's motion that the Senate "recognises the hard work, dedication and sacrifice of the over 80,000 state and federal police officers in Australia"; notes that, "in 2018-19, over 9000 police officers were injured in the line of duty throughout Australia, more than one officer every hour" and "that the 2018 'Answering the call' national survey, found that over 24 per cent of police officers reported that they are sometimes or often physically assaulted when undertaking work duties".

The motion also "condemns those calling for the defunding of our essential police forces..." During discussion regarding this motion, an additional 21 Senators indicated their wish to be added as sponsors for this motion, by standing and being named by the president.

This was done by leave of the Senate in recognition of the strong sentiment felt in the chamber, and not usually done in this way. When put to the vote, this motion received such support in the chamber that 52 Coalition, Labor and crossbench senators agreed to it, leaving just eight Greens senators to vote no.

We need our police, just like we need all of our frontline workers. And they all deserve our respect, especially when they have gone over and above their usual duties to keep us safe during this coronavirus pandemic.

Originally published in The Examiner