Article by Anna Patty for The Sydney Morning Herald
Plans to expand NSW police powers would encourage officers to arrest people for spurious reasons and to hold them in custody even if they face only financial penalties, legal experts have warned.
The state government has proposed legislation to make it easier for police to make on-the-spot arrests. The move is in response to complaints criminals are using a lack of clarity around arrest powers to escape conviction and sue police.
The proposed powers would allow police to arrest a person on the basis of a subjective belief it is ''reasonably necessary'', after considering the ''nature and seriousness'' of the offence. The existing law applies a more objective standard.
David Porter, a senior solicitor at the Redfern Legal Centre who specialises in complaints about police conduct, said the proposed law would encourage poor policing and discourage the need for police to conduct more skilled investigations. ''Under the bill, police officers will be able to arrest someone where they have no intention of taking them to court for the offence,'' he said.
''Even if they only want to give them a $100 fine, they will be able to hold them in custody for hours.
''By continuing to lower the bar for the exercise of police powers, the government is effectively ushering in a generation of police who do not have daily experience of the skilled investigation that is needed to catch the criminal organisations the people of NSW are actually worried about.''
Jane Sanders, from the Shopfront Youth Legal Centre, said police needed better training in how to use their existing powers, not greater ones. ''Young officers going out on the beat are well meaning but they are not adequately trained about where their powers begin and end,'' she said.
Although the new bill was designed to clarify police arrest powers, Ms Sanders said it had made them more ambiguous by giving the mistaken impression police can make an arrest just to check someone's identification.
Premier Barry O'Farrell recruited former Labor police minister Paul Whelan and former Liberal shadow attorney-general Andrew Tink to review police arrest powers after Wollongong district court judge Paul Conlon called for an urgent review of powers to make on-the-spot arrests. Those concerns were taken up by talkback radio which, Fairfax Media was told, prompted the review.
Greens MP David Shoebridge said it was extraordinary the only input sought in the review was from police. ''It appears many of the police submissions failed to comprehend the extent of their existing powers including crucially the current power to arrest to prevent a breach of the peace,'' he said.
''This existing power properly exercised is more than enough to protect persons and property from any imminent threat.''
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