“They need a reasonable excuse to be out there [buying running shoes], and people need to ask themselves the question, ‘do I need to do it?’ and quite often, the answer can be no.” Assistant Commissioner Tony Cooke added, “You don’t need that pair of shoes today.”
The widely criticised comment from Cooke comes amid a range of unprecedented Covid restrictions being placed upon the citizens of Sydney and the surrounding region during the extension of the latest lockdown.
From July 9, the updated list of rules prohibit people from ‘browsing in shops’ as well as imposing strict limits on what the state deems to be ‘essential purchases’. Only one person from each household per day can shop and all exercise must be within 10km of home.
There have been reports of NSW Police waiting outside a Kmart store in the south-west of Sydney to check that customers are only buying essential items.
According to the Daily Mail, police were in attendance on Friday afternoon talking to Kmart customers and inspecting their bags.
Police have denied the accusation, with a spokesperson insisting that, “Checking shopping bags is not part of the COVID police operation.”
Opinion within the community is split, with some embracing the lockdown by using the hot-line to report on members of the public for public health order breaches, while others appear furious that the government is now deciding what is and is not ‘essential’.
“I don’t want anyone to feel like that. But if you are not doing the right thing, please know that we will have to have the law come down on you, because the simple fact is, people doing the wrong thing means that all of us suffer,” said NSW Premier, Gladys Berejiklian.
NSW Police launched a high-visibility operation on Friday for Sydney’s south-west region to ‘ensure compliance with all Covid-19 public health orders’.
“Our police will be targeting the people who think the rules don’t apply to them. Those people are putting everyone’s lives at risk, including their own families, and working to prolong the lockdown,” said Deputy Commissioner Lanyon.
The operation includes 100 extra police officers and draws on the resources of the Dog and Mounted Unit, Traffic and Highway Patrol Command, PolAir, Police Transport Command, and officers from the South West Metropolitan Region.
Sydney’s south-west is home to a diverse community, including those who do not speak English. In order to ensure that the current public health orders are understood by the community, police have translated them into 56 languages along with the deployment of multicultural liaison officers.
Democracy in Colour – a racial justice organisation – described the heightened police presence in area as ‘thinly veiled racism’.
"This isn't a public health response, it's explicitly targeting people of colour and working class communities in the western suburbs. Inner city suburbs and the Northern Beaches have had significant cases but they have not been harshly policed like this,” said the group’s National Director, Neha Madhok.
Paul Azzo, the Deputy Mayor of Fairfield, disagreed with the accusations.
"I see the proposed police response as a positive for South Western Sydney and I congratulate the premier for taking a special interest in the residents of Fairfield."
The current public health orders are expected to remain in place for at least another week.