Dairy farmers have been urged to record interactions with animal activists who trespass onto their properties so it can be used as evidence.
That was one of the main messages delivered by Police Commander Allan Adams to the agricultural industry on how to deal with animal activists at the WAFarmers 2019 Dairy Conference at Busselton, WA, in July.
"The activists use mobile phones to good effect, so you need to use your mobile phones to good effect," Mr Adams said.
"They know that controversy on a media sense raises their profile, so we encourage you to fight fire with fire.
"Pull out your phone, press record and tell that person very clearly that they do not have consent to be on your property and to please leave.
"Record them, any offsiders and any vehicles they have and if you follow that process we will act."
Mr Allan said the capturing of evidence gave police a strong case to lay trespass charges.
However, he said, the trespass law was not always straightforward, due to the issue of implied consent.
"It's important to understand that protest activity can be lawful despite it causing significant concern," Mr Adams said.
"A common scenario is when a protestor or activist/s might congregate at the front of your property with their banners and film.
"If they're standing on public space, such as the road verge, filming into the front of your house that can easily be seen, that is lawful.
"But you cannot film where someone wouldn't expect to be filmed, for example through a bathroom window."
Mr Adams said signage on front and side gates clearly articulating entry for official business purposes only could be of assistance to police in dealing with animal activists who entered that property.
Since February, seven people with links to animal activism have been charged in relation to two burglary offences and seven trespass offences in WA.
Unlike Victoria, where protestors have been issued fines as low as a dollar, Mr Adams said a combined fine of $10,000 for the first two incidents had put those animal activists on the back foot.
"We've given a direct and appropriate response right from the very early days," he said.
"If those dollar fines happened here in WA, I can assure that the police would be very quickly going to the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) and saying that's a manifestly insufficient deterrent for that offending type and would be getting the DPP to appeal."
The calm the farm campaign has been used by WAFarmers and the WA Police to encourage farmers to maintain composure in the face of provocation by animal activists.
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Mr Adams said it was important for farmers to engage with activists in a calm and measured way and to keep their local police on speed dial.
"It is critical to speak up early so these situations don't escalate," Mr Adams said.
"A local farmer should know his local coppers and be well and truly prepared to ring as soon as he or she sees something that causes them concern."
He said there was the ability to use reasonable force, but it was a complex area that could get you into hot water with the law.
"You can use like force, that being force that is commensurate with the force they are serving up," Mr Adams said.
But he warned farmers to keep their guns inside.
"The biggest risk for us is around the introduction of firearms," Mr Adams said.
"You are only one bad decision away from a potential catastrophe and we need to maintain that calm.
"The best way to deter unlawful protest activity is early reporting.
"Give the police the opportunity to handle it."
Mr Adams told the audience that police were also developing a concept of rural crime investigators, based on the New South Wales' model.
Under this model, specifically trained detectives are spread across WA who have an advanced knowledge of stock identification, machinery and equipment, by-product and fuel theft.
"We are working hard with industry to lift up our capability and better target all crime types, not just activist activity," Mr Adams said.
"We're looking to the industry to advise us where those pressure points are at a criminal level to help us better hone in on our approach."
- This story first appeared on Farm Weekly
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