Victoria Police chief commissioner Shane Patton.
Victoria Police chief commissioner Shane Patton.Credit:Paul Jeffers

Victoria Police chief commissioner Shane Patton has defended the actions of a protective services officer after footage emerged of her slapping an 11-year-old boy who spat at her at a Melbourne train station, but calls for an independent investigation have emerged.

Footage obtained by 3AW on Thursday showed the boy repeatedly swearing and using a racial slur, his arms restrained behind his back by two PSOs.

The video, taken on January 26, shows the child spit at the female officer before she slaps him.

Patton described the officer’s actions as a “redirection strike”.

“He spits on a PSO and that PSO then reacts, and you call it a ‘slap’, I call it a redirection strike,” Patton told 3AW’s Neil Mitchell on Thursday morning.

But lawyer Jeremy King – who specialises in police misconduct matters – said he thought it looked like an act of retribution and that an independent investigation was now needed.

“To me, it looked like a slap. I think to the community at large it looks like a slap. I’ve never really heard of a redirection strike. That sounds like Orwellian doublespeak to me,” King said.

“When you look at all of that, you really have to question it. The fact the commissioner comes out and immediately justifies it is also pretty concerning, I think.”

King, also on 3AW, highlighted the child’s age. The Victorian government is currently considering lifting the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14.

Patton said the incident took place at Noble Park station, and the PSOs were there at the request of Metro Train staff.

The two officers apprehended the boy as a suspect, but the commissioner did not go into details about what he had allegedly done.

“There’s no doubt he’s been struck, it’s redirected his face as you will see … stopped any further threat,” he said.

The officers involved put in a use of force form, and were aware the incident was filmed on a mobile phone and on CCTV, Patton said.

“He’d spat at her, so it’s been looked at, and they [the PSOs] were aware their actions were coming under scrutiny,” Patton said.

The police chief said he was comfortable appropriate processes had been followed since the incident, and, when asked, confirmed it was possible the boy could face charges.

“We would have to prove that the child understood what they were doing was wrong; if they’re committing a crime … but, yes, he can be charged,” Patton said.

King, principal lawyer at Robinson Gill Lawyers, said racism and spitting was deplorable and should be called out. But he said his view of the incident suggested the strike was delivered by the PSO as retribution, which was not acceptable.

“It’s not for PSOs or police to mete out punishment, or mete out retribution. That’s for the law to do,” he told 3AW.

“And to me, it looked like a slap, I think to the community at large it looks like a slap.

“The other question we’ve got to be asking ourselves as a community is, are we happy that an 11-year-old is in handcuffs?”

Patton addressed the possibility of the age of criminal responsibility being raised to 14.

“If the age … did go up, and an 11-year-old couldn’t be charged with an offence, well, then what happens to them?”

He said the change would require the state to develop services or some other “circuit breaker” that helped prevent children from committing crimes.

Ilo Diaz, advocacy coordinator for the Police Accountability Project, a project of the not-for-profit Inner Melbourne Community Legal, said the incident was “another example of why we need an independent police ombudsman”.

“Police should not be investigating police when it comes to use of force or any other complaints, especially when it comes to children,” Diaz told The Age. “A child who has been restrained and then slapped should have access to an independent body to investigate their incident”.

King also called for an independent investigation.

“Treating 11-year-olds as criminals … it’s not in accordance with the law, and I don’t think it’s acceptable to the Victorian community,” he said.

The Northern Territory government will raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 12 this year, the ACT will gradually increase it to 14 by 2027, and the Tasmanian government said it would lift the minimum age for incarceration to 14 while leaving the age of criminal responsibility at 10.

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