Heightened disrespect for police is putting officers in danger of violent assaults and the courts are letting offenders off the hook, according to the head of the Victorian Police Association.
The association's secretary, Wayne Gatt, has spoken out after a 17-year-old accused of kicking a young police officer in the head at Highpoint shopping centre in Melbourne on Boxing Day was released on bail, despite police vehemently opposing it.
CCTV: policeman kicked at Highpoint Shopping Centre
A teenager rushes through the crowds at Maribyrnong's Highpoint Shopping Centre to kick a police officer in the face. Footage has been released in the hopes that witnesses can help them track down the assailant.
The victim, 25, who has been in the force for five years, was arresting a young shoplifter when a group of teenagers surrounded him before one sank his boot into the officer's face.
An irate Mr Gatt said the incident had left the policeman "shaken up" and caused officers across the state to express fear about performing their duties amid the growing teenage street-gang crisis, largely attributed to young people of African descent.
"He [the victim] is back at work doing the job but it's taken its toll on him and our members," Mr Gatt said.
"I've spent the last two days at stations across Victoria and they are literally gobsmacked to witness an assault like this occur. When police officers can be seen to be vulnerable within the community, police start to question their own personal safety at work.
"To then hear that offenders accused of crimes like this are released on bail so they could potentially injure other from within their ranks and people in the broader community defies belief."
Mr Gatt said serious and violent assaults against police were rising, with 45 more officers injured last year compared with the previous year.
He said 1273 officers were victims of violent assault in 2017, compared to 1228 in 2016.
He called for a reform of state's bail system to make it more difficult for those accused of violent crimes to released.
"The risk to community safety needs to be given greater consideration through bail reform," he said. "This is a perfect example of a case where police strenuously oppose bail and their concerns appear to have been ignored.
"The courts have to send a strong message that our members aren't punching bags... that this behaviour, this disrespect must stop and won't be tolerated."
The accused teen, from the western suburbs, was arrested last week and charged with assaulting an emergency worker on duty, intentionally and recklessly causing injury, and common law assault.
He appeared at the Children's Court last Friday and was released on bail.
Victorian police minister Lisa Neville has previously said that reforms announced more than a year ago targeting youth offenders – including the provision of youth control orders, and so-called Fagin's Laws cracking down on those who direct youth offenders – could be used by police in coming months.
It comes after a large group of youths allegedly bashed and robbed beachgoers in a wild brawl on the St Kilda foreshore in the early hours of Thursday, December 14.
Detectives are also investigating links between at least four violent and destructive sprees at short-term rental properties – including a near-riot at a party in Werribee on December 19-20 –and an emerging western suburbs street gang, known as MTS, or Menace to Society.
Police are also investigating reports of a group of youths trashing and occupying a local park in Tarneit.