Rita Panahi

Victoria Police Facing a ‘Crisis in Trust’ after Covid Violence: Rita Panahi

8 April 2022

3.1 MINS

Outsiders host Rita Panahi says that a bit of cheap PR won’t fix the damage Victoria Police did to their brand during Covid. Reform is needed to flush out the violence and politicisation that has marred VicPol in recent years.

“After two years of overreach and selective policing, the VicPol hierarchy wants to rebuild their brand,” says Sky News host Rita Panahi in a viral video that has seen over a million views on Twitter and hundreds of thousands through other platforms this week.

Panahi’s Outsiders segment followed on from a Nine News report explaining that Victoria Police is “hoping to repair a brand damaged by two years of unpopular Covid policing”.

Nine News interviewed Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Shane Patton, who made veiled references to the reckless violence and highly politicised law enforcement Victorians faced from their police force over the last year. It “might not have been what they would have expected in the first instance,” said Patton with a straight face.

This didn’t convince a fired-up Rita Panahi.

“No Commissioner, you didn’t have to do any of the insanely illiberal and often downright brutal enforcement that you and your members of your command enthusiastically embraced,” Panahi retorted. “You didn’t have to allow the police force to become politicised. You didn’t have to stand with bureaucrats banning children from playgrounds.”

Brutal Violence by Victoria Police

The six-minute report shows graphic footage of police violence, some of which was featured on mainstream news at the time, but has since been largely swept under the rug by Australia’s Covid cheer squad.

“Victoria Police command wants you to forget about what they’ve been up to,” Panahi warns, before highlighting their misconduct: “harassing old women on park benches, arresting pregnant women in their kitchens for Facebook posts, enforcing playground bans on children, and their brutal response to anti-lockdown protesters.”

In one short clip, officers in full riot gear are seen beating one anti-lockdown protester with the stock of a firearm, and running in to knee another already subdued on the ground.

This incident “didn’t get any attention despite the brutality and clear misuse of a weapon,” Panahi laments. Nevertheless, it was events like this that explain why “so many law-abiding Victorians who are normally pro-police now look at the force with suspicion,” she says.

In another shocking incident that took place in the Melbourne suburb of Epping, a man suffering a mental health episode is run down by a police car and subsequently has his head stomped by an officer.

“That poor victim ended up in an induced coma,” reports Panahi. “And the incident was investigated, but guess what? You’ll be happy to learn that the watchdog found that Victoria Police acted lawfully when head-stomping a mentally ill man during arrest.”

The Politicisation of Victoria Police

For people watching on from around Australia, one of the most infuriating aspects of Victoria Police’s approach to Covid was their selective policing of events, depending on the political sentiment behind them.

Anti-lockdown protesters were subjected to rubber bullets, pepper spray and riot squad round-ups. In contrast, those who flouted Covid restrictions to march in a Black Lives Matter rally were not only condoned but encouraged by Victoria Police.

Assistant Commissioner Luke Cornelius, whom Panahi appropriately likens to Chief Wiggum from the Simpsons, was perhaps the most politically partisan player in VicPol’s hierarchy. While referring to anti-lockdown protesters as “bat**** crazy conspiracy theorists”, this is what he had to saw about BLM rally-goers:

Victoria Police understands and acknowledges the anger and frustration people feel about events taking place overseas and which are dominating our TV. We absolutely understand the sentiment an the anger that lies behind that and we are very keen to support community here in giving voice to their concerns and their protest.

“For BLM, there was restraint, no mass arrests or fines,” says Panahi. But demonisation, fines and violence were meted out on “those questioning why their kids’ schools were closed and their livelihoods were being destroyed”.

The Need for Reform at VicPol

Victoria Police’s public image is badly damaged, according to Panahi. “A little cheap PR isn’t going to fix that,” she asserts. Far more is needed. Panahi contents that VicPol’s command “needs a clean-out”.

She’s right.

Throughout Covid, Victoria Police failed to live up to its mission, which is to “serve the Victorian community and uphold the law so as to promote a safe, secure and orderly society”.

If trust in Victoria Police is to be rebuilt, misconduct must be acknowledged and reforms should be forthcoming. Australians want to trust law enforcement, and most police officers want to carry out their job with dignity and integrity.

For everyone but the powerful few, reform can’t come soon enough.

Watch Rita Panahi’s Outsiders report here.

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One Comment

  1. Janet COURTNEY 8 April 2022 at 5:10 pm - Reply

    Ms Panahi and others need to pull their heads in over the HEAVILY EDITED news video showing police dealing with protesters. A member of my family, a serving member, was there – the news media didn’t mention the filthy and vile abuse hurled at the police, the plastic bags of urine thrown in their faces by “innocent protestors”. The rocks, bottles and whatever else was at hand hurled at the officers and the many, many times they had their faces spat upon. Yet the officers were suposed to stay calm and ignore it. I’d like to see how you who criticise the police would cope with such disgusting abuse.

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