By Mike Karadjis
SYDNEY — Representatives of more than 20 community and youth organisations have voted to cut off all joint activity with the police throughout the Fairfield-Cabramatta area following incidents of abuse of police power. These incidents are apparently part of a police operation known as "Operation Hammer".
Things came to a head over the targeting of a needle exchange and drug information bus, despite explicit pledges by the police not to do so.
The bus, an initiative of the Health Department through the Fairfield Liverpool Youth Health Team, was being helped by youth workers from Cabramatta Community Centre. The bus gives advice and information to local drug users on issues such as AIDS, exchanges used needles for clean ones and acts as a drop-in venue.
On September 11, police entered the bus and searched young people, without producing identification. The next morning, four police entered Cabramatta Community Centre, without permission or ID, and tried to arrest a youth worker. The police acted in an extremely offensive way, constantly swearing at the worker.
The following Friday a large number of police hung around in the vicinity of the bus, watching who turned up and following clients as they left. Workers believe this led to a number of arrests.
In seven weeks the bus had seen 1400 clients, but following this harassment the number of young people visiting the bus dropped from around 65 a night to less than 15, according to Sue Bull, a youth worker in Fairfield. Bull told Green Left that this has had serious consequences for the credibility of youth workers in the area.
Other recent incidents include police officers masquerading as youth workers in order to enter the homes of young people, some of whom have allegedly been assaulted and had guns pointed at their heads. There have also been alleged police assaults on young people and the use of entrapment. In one case a young person was allegedly paraded around the streets, handcuffed.
A meeting of community, youth and welfare workers on September 30 voted to "ban liaison and cooperative programs with police in Fairfield, both existing and new programs ... until this current abuse of police power has been resolved".
The meeting agreed that any future programs with police cooperation should ask for a written statement of agreement.
According to the Fairfield Youth Workers' Network, the bus "has been extremely effective in terms of harm minimisation and accessing young people to mainstream welfare services ... Operation Hammer is directly contributing to an increase in unsafe injecting behaviour, which may have devastating long term effects upon both clients and the general population."
Following a meeting with the police, at which they gave a verbal agreement to honour the original promise to keep away from the bus, it resumed operation on October 8. But the very first night, a police van parked opposite the bus. After a phone call to Cabramatta police station, the van drove off and hasn't been seen since.
But attempts to get written agreement from the police on the bus issue were rebuffed with the information that "it's not a perfect world" and the suggestion that those higher in the police hierarchy have little control over what police in the field do.
An October 20 meeting of youth and community workers resolved to maintain the boycott pending an upcoming meeting with the police. Other needle exchange programs in Penrith and Richmond have written to the police minister supporting the boycott.