Police, community law advocates divided on use of force in arrest of Bendigo boy

UPDATE TUESDAY 9am: A “full and thorough investigation” is warranted following the arrest of a 12-year-old Boy in Bendigo on Friday, a lawyer specialising in police accountability has said.

Flemington and Kensington Community Legal Centre lawyer Lauren Caulfield, whose organisation yesterday decried the officers’ force as “disproportionate”, said in a video posted online that the Victoria Police response to concerns about the arrest highlighted the need for an independent review process of their behaviour.  

Asked yesterday if a review of the boy’s arrest would be conducted, Victoria Police declined to comment.  

Police minister Lisa Neville said yesterday there were avenues for members of the public who wished to raise concerns about police behaviour.

The Victorian MP also said the community expected police to “act appropriately when dealing with members of the public.

“Police officers are daily called to incidents that can be volatile and dangerous, and they must act to protect individuals as well as the whole community,” Ms Neville said.

She too was asked if an investigation would take place.  

Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton told 3AW this morning the arrest “looked fine”. 

“(People) should get more facts before they criticise,” he told host Neil Mitchell. 

UPDATE MONDAY 3.30pm: The woman who filmed the arrest of a 12-year-old at Bendigo train station on Friday has said the boy was “just sitting there” when police approached him.

Danni Wattie said she and her partner were leaving Bendigo railway station and were walking towards Marketplace when six officers approach the boy, who was was sitting on the ground against a wall with another person at the time.

She said when officers began restraining the boy and pushed him against the wall, he lashed out.

Ms Wattie said she was “a fair way off” and could not hear what words passed between the officers and the boy, but she then decided to move back towards them, and began filming.

While she acknowledged that she did not know what happened prior to arrival of police, Ms Wattie said the boy “wasn’t doing anything, he was just sitting there” at the time of the officers’ approach. 

A statement from Flemington and Kensington Community Legal Centre, which runs the Police Accountability Project, said today in a statement on its website all children should be treated with "the greatest possible care". 

"Victoria Police needs to respond to community expectations and their training and practices should reflect community standards," it read. 

The introduction of armed PSOs at public transport stations meant many incidents involving children ended in "harmful use of force".

"Young children and other vulnerable people often panic when touched or grabbed by police and then commonly, police apply greater levels of force which quickly escalate into dangerous restraint holds or worse," the statement continued. 

Victoria Police have said no one was injured during Friday's arrest.  

UPDATE MONDAY 1.30pm: The peak body for Victorian legal centres says outrage over the restraint of a Bendigo boy is justified, calling the actions of police officers “distressing”.  

Federation for Community Legal Centres Victoria engagement director Melanie Poole said police members should instead be trained to deescalate emergency situations like the one that occurred at Bendigo railway station on Friday.   

“For any parent watching it, it's pretty distressing to see the disproportionate force being used on a 12-year-old,” she said. 

Ms Poole also criticised Victoria Police for backing their officers’ actions before an investigation took place.  

The absence of a police watchdog meant it was difficult to hold officers accountable, something Ms Poole described as a systemic problem.

“The community has very little power to call for them to be investigated.”  

Asked today if there would be a review of the officers’ actions, Victoria Police declined to comment. The agency also did not answer questions about the training its members received. 

UPDATE MONDAY 12.15pm: The Police Association Victoria has defended the actions of officers and PSOs who restrained a 12-year-old boy at Bendigo station on Friday, saying they acted appropriately to maintain public safety.

The association’s secretary, Sergeant Wayne Gatt, said the boy was alleged to have endangered his own safety and that of others. 

“When our members are called to incidents like this the community expect them to act appropriately and decisively in order to maintain public safety,” Sergeant Gatt said today.  

“Police work is dangerous and incredibly challenging, and officers must always act to protect themselves and the community.

“It is very easy to judge the actions of police with the benefit of hindsight however police never have this luxury and are required to respond with limited information, at a moments notice and deal with difficult incidents as they evolve.”

Although a video of the arrest showed an officer telling onlookers the boy was autistic, Victoria Police today confirmed with the 12-year-old’s family that was not the case.  

Asked how officers arrived at their initial conclusion the boy was autistic, or whether there would be a review of the incident, Victoria Police declined to comment. 

UPDATE MONDAY 11.20am: Police have this morning said the boy restrained by police at Bendigo train station last week is not autistic, according to his family. 

Arresting officers on Friday told onlookers the boy’s autism was a reason for his restraint.

Victoria Police has since defended their members’ force as “reasonable”. 

Officers were responding to a report of criminal damage on Friday when the boy, who police said was a 12-year-old, allegedly resisted arrest. 

EARLIER: A video of four Bendigo police officers restraining a child highlights the importance of training to de-escalate heightened situations, a local advocacy group says.

The video shows the boy doubled over on the ground as the officers hold him down, with one saying “This is ridiculous, you’re not going to hurt my members or me, OK? … Shut up, you had your opportunity”.

At a point, the boy can be heard to cry “Let go of me”.

Onlookers berate the police for their actions and say he is only a child, to which an officer replies that the boy is autistic and he was on the roof, saying “I can’t let him kick people, and I can’t let him stand on top of the railway station bridge, where he’s going to hurt himself”.

The Bendigo Advertiser has chosen not to publish the video, to protect the identity of the child.

Beck Kelly, from the Bendigo Autistic Advocacy and Support Service, said that while the video showed only a snippet of the incident, it suggested police needed training in de-escalating such situations.

Restraint was not an appropriate measure, she said, as it could lead to trauma and inform a child’s aversion to police.

But Ms Kelly said it would be difficult when children exhibited these sorts of behaviours, and police needed to know how to manage such incidents before they reached such a point that measures like restraint were used.

She said the group wanted to offer local police training on working with autistic people with co-occurring issues from those with both professional and lived experience, including how to best manage a person when anxious or agitated.

Ms Kelly said it was important to note that the boy’s behaviour and apparent state of mind were not characteristic of autism, but suggested other issues were also at play.

In a statement, Victoria Police defended the police officers’ actions, describing them as “reasonable force”.

“Members arrested a 12-year-old boy during which he resisted arrest and reasonable force was used to execute the arrest,” the statement said.

“No injuries were reported as a result of the arrest.”

The statement said officers had responded to a report of criminal damage at Bendigo train station on Friday evening.

Police said the boy was taken from the scene in the care of his father, and they expected to interview him at a later date.

Questions from the Bendigo Advertiser regarding police training were not answered.