New South Wales Police will not be held accountable for issuing incorrect COVID-19 infringement notices, according to NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller.

In a video issued to the State’s police force regarding the recently enforced ‘Operation Stay at Home’, the Commissioner also told officers to “go high-level enforcement” on public health orders — putting “community policing aside” and prioritising this “outside of our first response capabilities”.

The footage, published by Sydney Morning Herald on Thursday, is a screen recording of the original NSW Police video where the Commissioner, dressed in uniform, addressed officers.

“I know there is a lot to take in with the health orders, but I am asking you to put community policing aside for a short period of time, for 21 days … you need to take a strong approach to enforcement,” he said.

“I have said before, if you write a ticket and get it wrong, I understand and I won’t hold you to account for that.”

The Commissioner then continued, saying NSW Police must “shape the behaviour of people” to get out of lockdown before Christmas.

He urged officers to “take the challenge”.

“Can I challenge you for the next 21 days that we go high-level enforcement, that we prioritise this outside of our first response capabilities?” he said.

“Let’s get out of lockdown, let’s get ahead of the Delta variant, let’s make the people proud of NSW Police.”

The Commissioner also noted that the tickets police have issued in the “last four months is five times the year before that”.

The Aboriginal Legal Service NSW/ACT voiced their concerns after ‘Operation Stay at Home’ was announced. These concerns have furthered since the public release of the video.

“When the message from the top is that police officers can ‘put community policing aside’ and won’t be held to account for getting it wrong, that just gives rogue officers free rein to harass members of our community,” said ALS NSW/ACT Deputy CEO Anthony Carter.

NSW Police currently have extraordinary powers of enforcement. Those powers need to be paired with increased oversight and accountability. Police must be held to the highest professional standards.”

Carter noted the double standards occurring in the State.

“Our community is being called upon to be accountable for following the COVID rules,” he said.

“It’s only right that police should also be accountable for applying those rules within the law.”

NSW Shadow Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Treaty David Harris told NIT that whilst following public health orders is important, “enforcement should be measured and certainly be understanding of the significant logistical, geographic, social and cultural issues experienced by Aboriginal communities, particularly in rural and regional NSW”.

“Simply issuing fines to a community that is already vulnerable, without putting in place appropriate support structures will affect mental health and build resistance to authorities if actions are interpreted as being punitive,” he said.

The Shadow Minister noted that “strong supportive relationships build trust in community”, which in turn “actually makes messaging easier”.

“I would hope that Police use existing Aboriginal-led community structures to reinforce messaging and avoid a situation where punishment makes difficult health initiatives even more difficult.”

In 2020, the NSW Police issued the highest number of infringement notices in suburbs with a high population of Aboriginal people, including Mount Druitt, Blacktown and Redfern.

The legal service is encouraging Aboriginal people who are issued with infringement notices to get in touch for legal support and advice.

“We can offer legal advice to Aboriginal people who receive fines,” said Carter.

“We also want to monitor how many Aboriginal people are being approached by police and the circumstances of those interactions.”

By Rachael Knowles