Bash a cop, go directly to jail
There’s one civil liberty which is being glossed over In the debate over the response to street crime in the Melbourne CBD. The freedom to do your job without having the crap kicked out of you.
The sickening attack on a plain clothes officer in Little Bourke Street early yesterday - the copper had his jaw broken by a drunken yobbo who king-hit him from behind - has prompted calls from the Victorian Police Union for mandatory jail time for anyone found guilty of assaulting police.
The proposal will no doubt be criticised by civil libertarians as a draconian over-reaction.
Given the recent history of the Victorian Police Union - which has often sounded more like the Teamsters than a credible mainstream industrial outfit - some would be tempted to dismiss any of its policy ideas as a matter of principle.
Others - principally lawyers - oppose any calls to proscribe sentences as a slight on judicial independence. They also argue that, as with the anti-biker gang legislation proposed by SA, NSW and (as of yesterday) Queensland, that there’s plenty of scope within existing laws to tackle criminal conduct without over-the-odds measures which could impinge more broadly on our collective rights.
Then there’s the question of the use of such proposals as a deterrent - or rather, their uselessness as a deterrent, in that someone who’s off their chops and stumbling along Little Bourke St is unlikely to think through the consequences of snotting a cop anyway.
The last point might be true, but it ignores the fact that custodial sentences serve two purposes - to deter, and to punish. So unless you want to shrug your shoulders and abolish all sentencing on the basis that people keep breaking the law anyway, there’s not much point arguing about whether jail is a deterrent or not. It’s certainly a punishment. And only the maddest cop-hating ratbag would argue that whomever inflicted this violence on a young officer in Melbourne on Saturday should not be put away for a very long time.
As the law currently stands there’s a chance that, even if this person is found guilty, they could be given a suspended sentence - first offence, too drunk to form the requisite intent to have committed the crime, provoked, all the usual wah that makes normal people hate the courts. As such you can see why the Police Union wants it to be mandated that people who attack cops must do some time for their crime.
It’s a reasonable call.
A variation on this proposal already exists within the criminal law anyway, and it’s called constructed intent, whereby anyone who fires a shot on the course of a robbery or a prison escape and kills a policeman or prison officer is regarded by the court as having intended to kill them, regardless of whether they were trying to do so or not.
It’s an example of the law reflecting popular sentiment - namely that, if you’re in a line of work where you put your own safety on the line every day to keep the rest of society safe, you deserve a bit of extra protection. And that anyone who dares hurt you will face tougher treatment because of your selfless and dangerous line of work.
The same could be said in the debate now underway in Victoria.
“People are entitled to go to work and not come home via a hospital,” Police Association secretary Sen-Sgt Greg Davies told Melbourne’s Herald-Sun, and I reckon most people would passionately agree with him.
One other point in passing - much of the violence in Melbourne is being sheeted home to party buses, those double-decker drunk-til-you-spew things that roll through our bigger cities every Friday and Saturday playing doof-doof.
It seems weird that, as the Government toys with a two-drinks-a-day rule for those of us who like engaging in a bit of quiet shiraz abuse at home, these binge buses seem to be getting away with what by definition is the recklessly irresponsible service of alcohol.
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