Published date: 
Thursday, May 20, 2021

There is mounting concern regarding the experiences of people sleeping rough and their often unfair and unwarranted interactions with police based on preconceived assumptions of homeless people.  

Centre member Professor Luke McNamara was recently involved in the Public Interest Advocacy Centre’s (PIAC) ‘Policing Public Space’ Forum concerning the experiences of people sleeping rough and their interactions with police officers. Held on 18 May 2021, Luke was part of a panel of law and policy experts providing expertise on the matter to celebrate the recent launch of the ‘Policing Public Space: The Experiences of People Sleeping Rough’ report. Led by report author Madeleine Humphreys (who is a BCCJ/LLB student at UNSW law & Justice), a solution focused discussion was held involving Professor Luke McNamara alongside Rebecca Warfield (a lived experience advocate, StreetCare) and Samantha Sowerwine (Principal Lawyer, Justice Connect (VIC)).  

The discussion was largely centered around the over policing of the vulnerable group and the lack of accountability mechanisms in place and ways to address the problem. Key points made in the forum include: 

  • Legal guidelines of reasonable suspicion are often arbitrarily used by police 

  • There is a disconnect between policy, media and the reality faced by those on the streets 

  • The Protocol for Homeless People in Public Places needs to contain accountability mechanisms 

  • Future interactions between police and homeless individuals are often contingent on the initial police encounter and there is a need for fundamental cultural change involving meaningful leadership to transform police forces 

The discussion forum reflected the core concerns raised in the ‘Policing Public Space: The Experiences of People Sleeping Rough’ report, primarily the over policing of the group, improper use of move on orders and the verbal abuse and excessive use of force experienced by those sleeping rough. The main recommendations made in the report include inserting time limits for move on orders, removal of police discretion in regards to body worn video cameras, review and complaint mechanisms for the Protocol and relationship building between police and specialist homelessness services.  

At a time where people living on the streets are often seen as persons of interest rather than individuals needing assistance, the homelessness forum celebrating the launch of the ‘Policing Public Space: The Experiences of People Sleeping Rough’ report offers a strong research-based examination of how to rectify the current issue concerning police interactions.  

Click here for more information via PIAC's website.

Story by Maddison Buchholz,
CCLJ intern.