Victoria Police recently announced that they will spend $25 million to purchase rubber bullet launchers, stinger grenades, flash/noise distraction devices and semi-automatic rifles that fire capsicum rounds and blunt force pellets.
These high-powered weapons are being assigned to the Operational Response Unit with more than 600 police throughout the state are expected to be trained to use them in the next year.
At the moment only Special Operations and Critical Incident Response branches of the Victoria police have access to semi-automatic weapons. These units constitute only a small percentage of the force and they are supposed to be deployed in emergency situations.
This new change represents the start of general duty officers being equipped like riot police. General duty officers are supposed to deal with every day people and there is no evidence that they are facing any increased threat.
The weapons being adopted by Victoria Police are branded as non-lethal but their history tells a different story. In other places around the world where they are being used by police they are known to have caused serious injuries. In some cases, militarised police have killed unarmed people using these weapons.
There have been incidents where tear gas has blinded and killed people. The danger is amplified when the gas is sprayed in an enclosed space. When fired at close range rubber bullets can cause severe bleeding and bone fractures. Sound weapons, including Long Range Acoustic Devices have resulted in permanent hearing and nerve damage.
There is no demonstrable evidence that crime rates have increased or that there is any looming terrorist threat that justifies these weapons. It does seem however that their introduction fits nicely with the state Labor government’s pitch to be champions of “law and order”.
The Andrews government has seized on invented media hype about “youth gangs” to justify giving more power to the police. The narratives about supposed crime waves are merely diversions from the real problems that society faces like unemployment, low pay, unaffordable housing and a lack of social services.
The truth is you are much more likely to die at work than you are from a terrorist attack or a youth gang. But instead of spending money to crack down on negligent employers millions are being wasted on dangerous weapons.
The argument that these weapons will make Victoria a safer place is flawed. Gun control in Australia means the state has almost a monopoly on access to high powered guns. There are already more than enough resources in the hands of the police to deal with incidents of terrorism.
That said, governments do not even expect terrorist incidents to involve threats where the police are out-gunned. The idea that youth gangs drinking in parks need to be combatted with semi-automatic rifles is a joke.
The federal government’s own National Security website says that “any terrorist attack in Australia over the next 12 months would probably involve weapons and tactics that are low-cost and relatively simple, including basic weapons, explosives and/or firearms”.
Research has shown that these weapons “don’t have an observable effect on crime” and “a 10 percent increase in the total value of military aid [given to a community] leads to a decrease of 0.24% of the crime rates on average.”
In addition to trying to bolster “law and order” credentials in a desperate attempt to win votes, there are other reasons behind this irrational drive to militarise the police. For example arms producers see police forces as huge markets for “non-lethal weapons”.
At the same time, while the threat from crime and terrorism may well be low, governments around the world have tended to beef up their internal security regime in recent years. This is because their own policies and the profit-driven system they support has created a growing wealth gap which is stirring up huge amounts of anger.
The warzone-like scenes in the streets of the US where the police have been deployed with full military gear against unarmed protesters gives us a glimpse of the real motivation of big business governments.
Socialists oppose all steps towards the militarisation of the police. In fact we demand that even regular police officers should not carry guns at all, as is the case in countries like Ireland, the United Kingdom and New Zealand.
Instead of wasting money on weapons that are designed to be used against ordinary people opposing injustice, resources should directed into areas of social need like creating jobs, building affordable housing and extending public services.
By Triet Tran