ACT police chief confirms officers used balaclava on 16-year-old girl

The ACT Chief Constable has revealed officers used a balaclava on a 16-year-old girl at the City of Canberra jail.

Asked about the practice at an Estimates Committee hearing yesterday, Deputy Commissioner Neil Gaughan said balaclavas were used ‘very rarely, to prevent someone in custody from spitting or biting officers’.

He said that between March 2020 and August 14, 2020, police officers reported 26 cases of spitting or biting.

But Deputy Commissioner Gaughan insisted the hoods were not used on children, although they were recently used on a 16-year-old girl.

“We had a 16-year-old girl in the city who was aggressive when she was taken to the custody home for refusing to give up her alcohol and she spat and kicked the police,” did he declare.

But, he added, they had not been deployed on anyone under the age of 16.

When asked if the police could use other options like personal protective equipment, the CPO replied that they were not appropriate for officers.

“If I put plexiglass on a policeman, he can’t see down there,” he said.

Deputy Commissioner Gaughan later added that he believed the 16-year-old was the youngest woman to be placed in a balaclava.

He said he had not consulted other jurisdictions on the safe replacement of the pin hood.

ACT Greens want balaclavas banned

Andrew Braddock says he is concerned about the human rights of inmates on whom a balaclava is used. (Provided.)

Andrew Braddock, an ACT MP, said while he did not believe anyone should be spat on while carrying out their job, he believed there was a better system than using balaclavas.

He said he plans to “talk to key stakeholders and advocates” in the coming weeks about the best mechanism to introduce a territory-wide ban.

He expressed concern for the human rights of detainees.

“This is a very degrading and barbaric treatment to use in our system. The ACT correction system does not actually use hoods, but unfortunately the ACT police still do.

“There has to be a better way to do this.”

He noted that the ACT was one of the few jurisdictions to continue to use balaclavas.

“They are banned in South Africa, they are not used in most other jurisdictions in the state,” he said.

“ACT is actually in the minority here, where, along with Queensland and the Northern Territory, are the only remaining jurisdictions that actually use balaclavas.”

“Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment”: ACT Human Rights Commission

In a statement, the ACT Human Rights Commission said hoods could pose a “serious risk of suffocation” and called on the ACT government to follow South Australia and ban masks. constraints on adult and child prisoners.

“Whether by the police or in our correctional centers, our juvenile justice centers and our secure mental health facilities,” the statement said.

“The use of balaclavas can amount to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment when used to punish or coerce, and can further aggravate trauma for vulnerable people.

“There are other effective, less restrictive and less risky measures, such as PPE and face shields, that can minimize the risk to everyone involved in such incidents.”

A woman stands with street art on a wall behind her.
Change the Record chief executive Sophie Trevitt said the balaclavas “have been implicated in the deaths of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in custody”.(ABC News: Emmy Groves)

Change the Record, a First Nations-led justice coalition, welcomed the potential reform.

“I think it’s incredible that in the ACT, a human rights jurisdiction, we have these dangerous devices being used on children, let alone anyone else in our community,” said General Manager Sophie Trevitt.

Ms Trevitt, who is also a barrister, said it was confusing why the police chief would ‘insist that balaclavas are necessary in this jurisdiction’ when New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania didn’t use them.

“What we do know is that spit hoods have been implicated in the deaths of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in detention in this country, as well as First Nations people in the UK and the United States. United,” she said.

“The spit hoods are just one factor that increases the risk of harm to this individual.”

Mr Braddock said he hoped to bring the debate on a possible balaclava ban to the Legislative Assembly “before the end of the year”.

In a statement, Police Minister Mick Gentleman said ACT Policing members were “trained to de-escalate situations and use force in exceptional circumstances”.

“All actions of ACT Policing are subject to scrutiny, including through professional standards, the ombudsman and the Australian Law Enforcement Integrity Commission,” he said.

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