18th Jan 2018
A police operation to photograph and question unsupervised children on the streets of Mount Isa is illegal and should be stopped, according to civil libertarians.
Queensland’s Civil Liberties Council will ask the state’s privacy commissioner to investigate the operation, as politicians suggest the initiative could be expanded to other regional cities.
As part of Operation Tucson, children wandering the streets in the north-west Queensland mining town are being stopped, photographed, and in some cases driven home by Queensland Police Service (QPS) officers.
Officers record the child’s name, address, clothing and where they are going.
Queensland Civil Liberties Council vice-president Terry O’Gorman said he will send a submission to the Privacy Commissioner tomorrow morning, asking them to investigate.
“Police do not have the power, and should not have the power, to willy-nilly walk down the street, take photographs of people and put them on the major Queensland Police Service database,” Mr O’Gorman said.
“Stopping children, particularly Aboriginal juveniles, in the street at 2 o’clock in the afternoon simply to ask them what they’re doing is beyond the law, it’s illegal and it should be stopped.
“It’s also very bad for juvenile and police community relations.”
Mr O’Gorman is concerned about how the photographs will be used by the QPS.
“They must be being put on a police database: that’s the equivalent of these youths, many of whom have never committed a criminal offence, having a criminal record,” he said.
In the three weeks the operation has been running, officers have stopped children 500 times.
Queensland Police said the photographs will be kept confidential, and won’t be shared with other agencies or bodies.
“We respect the rights of individuals, and most times people are very supportive and cooperative of what we do,” said Acting Assistant Commissioner Kev Guteridge.
“We’ll try and link [the data] back to other offences that may have been reported to identify those people as either offenders in other offences, or more importantly clear their name if they weren’t responsible.”
“We’re out there trying to protect the community — if there was anything sinister involved we certainly wouldn’t be involved in that.”
Calls to expand operation
It comes as two far north Queensland MPs back the idea of running a similar operation in Cairns.
Federal Government Liberal MP Warren Entsch said the operation in Mount Isa “makes a lot of sense”.
“I don’t know how you can justify children as young as eight years old roaming the streets at 10 o’clock at night … other than they’re there for mischief, or their parents can’t control them,” he said.
There is growing community concern in Cairns over car thefts, with a record 767 cars stolen in the past year.
“I have never seen so many destroyed motor cars on the side of the road as I have in the past 12 months … it’s predominantly kids that are stealing these cars and destroying them,” he added.
State Cairns MP Michael Healy was on Thursday calling for the program to be rolled out in Cairns.
“There’s an element of frustration in the community that would guarantee an activity like that would be favourable, I personally would support it,” Mr Healy told the ABC.
“What we’re doing at the moment based on the amount of cars that have been stolen in the last 12 months isn’t working, or it’s certainly not coming to fruition.”
“There are policies that this government has put in place, but these are longer-term policies and they’re going to take time to work, we need to have immediate responses.”
Within hours Mr Healy walked back the comments, cancelled a planned interview and released a statement saying the Government was “serious about tackling crime in Cairns”.
Queensland Police said nothing was off the table, but the response to local issues would be determined on a case-by-case basis.
“What we’ve seen out in Mount Isa sadly is a group of young people between the ages of seven and 13 who are being left unattended, not supervised properly, and getting into mischief,” Acting Assistant Commissioner Guteridge said.
“The instances that we’ve seen in Cairns are actually more adult offenders or older teens that are involved in highly mobile crime as a result of what they’re doing, so a one size fits all approach to crime won’t work.”