‘Caught in moment’ no excuse: Police promise action against rowdy AFL fans

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No discretion will be shown by police towards rowdy fans who get "caught up in the moment" and break coronavirus restrictions this weekend, as officers prepare to saturate popular spots in Geelong and Richmond.

Heavy patrols will be “setting the tone” in such locations as Swan Street, as police try to ensure there is no repeat of the large crowds and wild scenes seen in previous years.

Richmond fans celebrate in Swan Street after the 2019 AFL grand final.Credit:Getty Images

Police say they have put in place arrangements that take into account both possible outcomes of the clash between the Tigers and the Cats, and have plans in place for Richmond and Geelong.

Assistant Commissioner Luke Cornelius said the policing operation would involve the mounted branch, road police, highway patrol and the air wing.

“Every year the grand final brings lots of people together – families, mates and friends – and the temptation and desire for people to get together to celebrate such an iconic occasion is just so tempting," he said.

“Here we are in our own last quarter. We can see the finish line in sight and just need to hold the line in terms of making sure we don't end up with this weekend being a major [coronavirus] spreading event, and we find ourselves undoing the hard work and sacrifice people have made over the course of lockdown.”

The mounted branch during a protest in the Melbourne CBD in August. Credit:Getty

He said that given all bars, pubs and clubs on Swan Street would be closed (apart from takeaway services), there would not be much happening to lure people to the area.

But police will still be patrolling the normally bustling high street and “setting the tone”.

“We of course have rostered police on to be ready to respond to public gatherings in whatever context so that includes Swan Street,” Mr Cornelius said. “We are anticipating having a visible presence so people understand police are out and about.

"We have put in place arrangements to ensure whatever team wins, whatever community might be celebrating or having a funeral, we will be there to support them and make sure whatever is happening is happening in a COVID-safe way."

Tigers fans celebrating their team’s victory in 2017. Credit:Luis Ascui

One of the key challenges police will have to deal with is the potential for emotional fans to let their guard down and break the rules, he added.

“Sadly we have to take steps to manage that risk, and the only way we can manage that risk in this critical juncture is take action, and that means taking enforcement action,” he said.

“If we cut people slack around ‘I got caught up in the moment’, we would hear that excuse all the time. We have to take action in the name of the vast majority of Victorians who are doing the right thing and owe it to people doing the right thing.”

Drones will be part of the police operation, but they will not be "hovering over pizza ovens in people's backyards", Mr Cornelius said. They will be used to monitor public spaces such as beaches and parks.

“I think every time people hear about drones or raise surveillance issues, they whip themselves into hysteria about that … the bottom line is our drones, and our air wing capability, more specifically, are highly valued and a limited resource and it's not like we are going to be using it to hover over people's backyards parties,'' Mr Cornelius said

Police will also monitor a protest against coronavirus restrictions planned for the Shrine of Remembrance on Friday afternoon.

Indoor gatherings are still banned in metro Melbourne, while outdoor gatherings are limited to 10 people from two households.

It is forecast to reach 16 degrees in Melbourne on Saturday, with 10 to 20 millimetres of rain expected, mostly in the morning and easing around the middle of the day.

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