News & Views

Response to IBAC’s review of Victoria Police use of OC spray

24 April 2024

Media statement- for immediate release

Melbourne Activist Legal Support (MALS) welcomes the Thematic review on investigations into the use of OC spray by Victoria Police, which was released on Tuesday 23 April 2024 by the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC).

The findings of the review vindicate what MALS legal observers have documented and reported on for several years.

What IBAC found

The IBAC review found that members of Victoria Police use OC (oleoresin capsicum) spray beyond its lawfully permitted use and frequently use it as a coercive tool or where there is no immediate or proportionate threat to police officers or the public.

IBAC found that ‘in many cases the decisions and actions of police escalated incidents or increased the safety risk of those involved.’ 

IBAC also found that internal police investigations into incidents involving OC spray ‘were not rigorous’ and Victoria Police ‘did not impose serious disciplinary action’ when allegations of misuse were substantiated. 

Of particular alarm is the finding that some Victoria Police officers consider OC spray to be a ‘low-level’ use of force.

According to the Victoria Police Manual (VPM), OC spray should only be used where there are ‘reasonable grounds to believe the use is necessary and proportionate in situations of:

  • violence or serious physical confrontation
  • where violent or serious physical confrontation is imminent
  • where a person is involved in violent or other physical conduct and likely to seriously injure themselves or result in suicide.’

The manual also contains clear instructions that OC spray should not be used when a person is ‘only passively resisting, e.g.: ‘simply hanging limp or refusing to comply with instructions only’.

MALS has documented multiple incidents of police using OC spray in breach of these requirements. 

Police use of OC spray at protests has increased since the International Mining and Resources Conference (IMARC) protests in Melbourne in 2019, which is the subject of a landmark class action against Victoria Police alleging the unlawful use of OC spray.

Most recently, MALS has documented the unlawful use of OC spray during pro-Palestine protests at Webb Dock in January and February. Again, MALS legal observers documented members of Victoria Police using OC spray as a coercive crowd control tool against protest participants who were not posing any physical threat.

Recommendations fall short

MALS welcomes closer scrutiny of the use of OC spray by Victoria Police. However, IBAC’s recommendations fail to address the deep systemic problem of Victoria Police’s consistent use of excessive force and impunity for members of Victoria Police.

Rigorous and legislatively enforced regulation of Victoria Police’s use of this dangerous chemical weapon is urgently needed.

MALS will continue to monitor and document the use of OC spray by Victoria Police and advocate for stronger police accountability mechanisms including an independent police ombudsman.

Seven News
– Video: Seven News Melbourne (Youtube) 23 April 2024

Quotes attributable to Melbourne Activist Legal Support spokesperson:

  • Victoria Police’s flagrant disregard for its own guidelines and Victorian law when it comes to the use of these dangerous weapons must end. The use of chemical weapons against people engaged in protest is fundamentally at odds with Victoria Police’s obligations under the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities.
  • Acknowledgment of the severe physical and psychological impacts of these weapons is very welcome, as is the finding that in many cases examined by IBAC, police failed to consider human rights. These findings reflect the direct observations of MALS legal observers over many years.

Further information and background:

Thematic review on investigations into the use of OC spray by Victoria Police (IBAC 23 April 2024)

OC Spray class action provides hope for accountability

Capsicum spray class action filed against Victoria Police

Police face major class action over capsicum spray use on protesters

IMARC protest group proceeding (class action)

Legal observer report: policing of the IMARC protests

MALS Statements of Concern regarding the use of OC spray since 2015

Melbourne Activist Legal Support (MALS)

is an independent volunteer group of lawyers, human rights advocates, law students and para-legals. MALS trains and fields Legal Observer Teams at protest events, provides training and advice to activist groups on legal support structures, and develops and distributes legal resources for social movements. MALS works in conjunction with law firms, community legal centres, and a range of local, national, and international human rights agencies. We stand up for civil and political rights.

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