Western Sydney disproportionately fined for Covid lockdown breaches

NSW bureau of crime statistics show most residents ‘strictly complied’ with Delta lockdowns, but fines pose ‘significant burden’ for ‘vulnerable’ sections of the community

Police disproportionately fined residents of western Sydney for Covid-19 breaches during the most recent outbreak, new data shows, despite surveys suggesting its residents were among the most compliant in the state.

The state’s premier crime statistics agency has warned the high volume of fines issued to residents in Sydney’s areas of concern will pose a “significant burden for some sections of the community who are already vulnerable” and urged the government to monitor the longer-term impact of the police response.

In a report released on Wednesday, the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (Bocsar) examined the enforcement of Covid-19 restrictions in July and August, as Sydney battled a worsening outbreak.

It found that while the vast majority of Sydney residents “strictly complied” with public health orders, police acted on 36,597 breaches of public health orders in the two-month period.

Bocsar described the figure as “extraordinary”. It accounts for 90% of all police activity for the duration of the pandemic.

Most of the breaches were dealt with by a fine, typically of $1,000, and usually involved unnecessary movement outside of a local government area (LGA) and visits to other households.

People in LGAs of concern, younger men, and those with recent involvement with police were most likely to be targeted. Roughly half the breaches – about 18,200 – involved a person who police had charged with another offence in the preceding five years.

About 13,292, or more than one-third of all breaches, occurred in the LGAs of concern.

Despite this, a Bocsar survey showed lower rates of non-compliance among people residing in LGAs of concern compared with the rest of the city.

“There is no evidence that people in areas of concern or young people are engaging in more non-compliant activities,” the report said. “Overall, our results suggest that breaches are largely enforcement-driven rather than reflecting underlying patterns of non-compliance.”

Bocsar said its evidence suggested “increased enforcement activity at certain times and locations” was the major factor behind the higher number of breaches for young men with a recent criminal history in the LGAs of concern.

A high proportion of the breaches occurred because police were searching people for other reasons, including suspected drug offences.

“Close to half of all individuals proceeded against by police for a breach of the Covid-19 public health orders had previously been proceeded against by police for other offences and breaches most often occurred in outdoor public places or at public transport hubs,” the report said.

“Qualitative data from the narratives analysis also suggests that a high proportion of detected breaches involved police searches, occurring through road patrols and suspected drug activity.”

The report relied on crime data, Covid case data, a survey of self-reported compliance, and a collection of “police narratives” concerning a random sample of 570 breaches.

“It is possible that self-reported rates of compliance were greater in LGAs of concern because of the increased enforcement activity prior to the surveying period, but it is also possible that residents were motivated to adhere to the restrictions because the risk of infection was substantially higher in these localities,” the report said.

“Regardless, the high volume of breaches and the heavy penalties that these offences attract will present a significant burden for some sections of the community who are already vulnerable.

“The longer-term impact of this enforcement activity should therefore be the subject of continued monitoring and public scrutiny.”

NSW police said in a statement that the rapid spread of the virus had caused health orders to “continually evolve, resulting in LGAs of concern nominated by NSW Health”.

“The NSW Government and NSW Health both sought an urgent police response to ensure the highest level of compliance with the health orders in those areas,” a spokesperson said.

“The public health orders have been in place for a reason, to ensure as many people as possible are protected from serious illness or even death.”


Christopher Knaus

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Buck naked: nude sunbathers fleeing deer fined for breaking Sydney lockdown
Police fined two men $1,000 each after helicopter and rescue crew sent to help the pair who became lost in bushland after wildlife encounter

Mostafa Rachwani

28, Jun, 2021 @3:08 AM

Article image
NSW police crackdown in south-west Sydney results in eight fines for Covid rule breaches
One local barista says he feels police have exaggerated the rate of non-compliance in the region

Mostafa Rachwani

09, Jul, 2021 @10:18 AM

Article image
Sydney anti-lockdown protest blocked as organisers vow to regroup in August
Anti-lockdown protests planned in Sydney fail to materialise as police enforce exclusion zone

Elias Visontay

31, Jul, 2021 @6:27 AM

Article image
Covid case linked to Sydney’s anti-lockdown protest investigated for breaching self-isolation rules
NSW police say a 35-year-old man fined ahead of last Saturday’s rally was not at his residence and found at another household in western Sydney

Michael McGowan

30, Jul, 2021 @6:48 AM

Article image
Western Sydney businesses frustrated by lack of essential work permits 48 hours before coming into effect
Applications are still not open for permits to be used from Saturday by authorised workers leaving or entering an LGA of concern

Mostafa Rachwani

26, Aug, 2021 @3:25 AM

Article image
Five weeks into the greater Sydney lockdown, the rules are eye-glazingly complicated | Anne Davies
Different restrictions for different local government areas leads to confusion – and that’s a disaster for compliance

Anne Davies

29, Jul, 2021 @9:31 AM

Article image
NSW toughens Covid rules for airport transport workers as police seek advice on Sydney limo driver
NSW police commissioner, Mick Fuller, says he’s received ‘mixed messages’ about whether Bondi limo driver broke rules

Michael McGowan and Josh Taylor

25, Jun, 2021 @9:41 AM

Article image
‘We feel intimidated’: residents in south-west Sydney Covid hotspots say police are making things worse
One man says officers have knocked on his door every day since his family tested positive while NSW Health has called only once

Mostafa Rachwani

14, Aug, 2021 @8:00 PM

Article image
Western Sydney residents feel they are being ‘scapegoated’ as police pledge Covid crackdown
Locals say they’re being treated more harshly than those in eastern Sydney where the outbreak started

Mostafa Rachwani and Naaman Zhou

08, Jul, 2021 @12:01 PM

Article image
Western Sydney more susceptible to ‘economic scarring’ post-lockdown, experts say
Unemployment in inner south-west, which includes Canterbury-Bankstown, is 8.8%, while the rate across Sydney is 5.7%

Mostafa Rachwani

22, Nov, 2021 @5:13 AM