NSW residents have racked up an eye-watering number of fines under the state’s public health orders since the start of the pandemic.
Officers were given extraordinary powers to enforce Covid-19 restrictions under amendments to the NSW Public Health Act, which saw people fined for a range of alleged rule breaking from straying too far from home, through to protesting at violent anti-lockdown rallies.
Police Minister David Elliott said on Friday that to the first day of October, 51,642 people had been issued infringement notices for public health order breaches and 15,294 slapped with fines for not wearing masks.
Under the orders, 5691 court attendance notices and 2346 youth cautions were handed out and 296,897 businesses were inspected by police, Mr Elliott said.
“That says to me the tempo of the operation was at a level that I don’t think the police are going to see for quite some time,” he told a budget estimates hearing.
The NSW police force has faced criticism from those who say officers took a heavy-handed approach to Covid-19 compliance, while the often-changing restrictions caused confusion in the community.
Mr Elliott said on Friday it was the legitimate role of a sworn police officer to ensure the public health orders were enforced, even if they weren’t always comfortable with doing so.
“From a policy point of view, it’s not as if we could get nurses and doctors out enforcing these health orders,” he said.
“Did they like doing it? No, they didn’t like it. You don’t have to be an expert in policing to know that.
“Many of them were very, very conscious of the fact that the community was at a heightened state of anxiety, and the inability of people to understand the orders from one day to the next.”
Earlier this week, the NSW Bureau of Crime and Statistics released figures showing NSW Police issued an “extraordinary” 36,597 Covid-19 public health order breaches in July and August this year amid the delta-variant outbreak.
A BOCSAR study found police disproportionately issued fines in western and southwestern Sydney during this period, with 37 per cent of breaches detected in the local government areas “of concern”.
The Berejiklian government introduced more severe restrictions in 12 LGAs in a bid to curb rising infection rates in certain parts of the city.
These LGAs are home to 28 per cent of the state’s total population, but accounted for 78 per cent of new Covid-19 infections recorded in NSW in July and August.
“Interestingly, the study suggests that compliance was greater in LGAs of concern, possibly because the Covid-19 risk was higher or possibly due to more enforcement,” BOCSAR executive director Jackie Fitzgerald said on Wednesday.
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