Rabieh Dib says his mother is afraid to sit in her front yard since police knocked on the door of their house after 10pm one night to check who was inside.
“We’re not criminals or troublemakers, but we feel intimidated,” says Dib, a car salesman who lives in Canterbury-Bankstown, one of the Sydney local government areas under the tightest lockdown restrictions.
On Saturday, the New South Wales premier, Gladys Berejiklian, announced the police presence would be increased in affected LGAs, with random road checks and officers able to impose larger fines of $5,000 for breaching public health orders.
Defence force personnel have also been deployed since the end of July to help enforce restrictions in the initial eight hotspot local government areas – now expanded to 12. Berejiklian has announced an additional 500 ADF personnel will be deployed on top of 300 already in NSW.
But residents have said the police presence in western and south-western Sydney has only exacerbated the challenges they are facing.
Dib, who lives in a flat behind his parents’ house, says police who came to the door one night last week told his father they had received a complaint about his children playing in the front yard.
“They were getting complaints that there were kids out the front and so on. And my dad kindly said to him that obviously, my son lives in the back, and he’s got two kids, and obviously, they come and play out the front.
“We actually have never had police knock on our door. It’s honestly quite disturbing, especially for them to do so late at night. You know, you panic at the time.”
Dib says the incident has shaken his mother and made his family paranoid, even though they weren’t doing anything wrong.
“My mum was quite shocked about it, and she’s actually now afraid to sit in her own front yard. And we’re not criminals or troublemakers but we feel intimidated.
“Personally, I feel paranoid and anxious every day now. I actually don’t feel safe at all, it just makes everything more stressful.”
The mayor of Canterbury-Bankstown, Khal Asfour, says the increased police presence has “obviously left the community unhappy” but he feels people understand the need for it.
“The community obviously aren’t happy, because there’s fears of over-policing here, but the majority of people are doing the right thing.
“I think we’ve done our best as a community and community leaders to make sure that people understand why they’re here.
“I don’t have a problem with it personally, because we need people that are meant to be isolating, or that have Covid, to stay at home.”
Malaz Majanni, a community figure and head of OnePath Network, a video platform with more than 2 million followers, says police have knocked on his door every day since he and his family tested positive for Covid.
He says they told him they were performing “compliance checks” but they were “always fumbling with papers” and “without a clear idea of what’s going on”.
His whole family, including his pregnant wife and four children, have had the virus since Sunday. He says he has been confined to bed for days with the “absolutely brutal” illness.
He says NSW Health has called the family once, but he has been bombarded with calls and visits from police.
“Every morning we get calls from the police and every morning it’s a different story. Today they called and asked to speak to the one-year-old. On the first day they called my phone twice, I didn’t answer as I was very sick.
“Other times, they call and ask for individuals to go out to the balcony and wave to them.”
He says in one of the first visits from the police, they demanded to see him at the door to ask “long-winded questions” and he collapsed, unable to stand because of the illness.
“I have anxiety every morning in worrying about the police visit. What if I miss their call? What will they ask for? Who will they ask for? Visits as such to a sick, young vulnerable family play no role in reducing case numbers.”
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Majanni says he is afraid of what the approach by police will do to community sentiment.
“I don’t want my kids growing hostile to police. I don’t want my kids seeing ADF officers … at our doorstep every morning, neither do I want them to see my kids. My family and I would be much more comfortable with healthcare workers checking in on us.”
Asked about the guidelines for compliance checks, NSW police declined to comment in detail, referring to previous statements. They also declined to discuss the potential mental health impacts of their operations in the suburbs under the heaviest restrictions.
Muhamod Tissini, a Canterbury-Bankstown tradie, says the police presence has made people afraid and uncomfortable in their own suburbs.
“I feel uncomfortable, it makes me feel like we are in a police state. And now, with the apparent increased presence from the military, it just doesn’t make you feel like you’re in Australia any more. Makes you feel like you’re in some sort of dictatorship.”
He says his parents, who live near Bankstown airport, are constantly hearing helicopters fly around them, hovering over houses and ordering people to stay at home.
“That’s just intimidation, it’s not about safety. You see that kind of shit in movies. There’s nothing comfortable about having more police and army involved. There’s nothing nice about it.”
Tissini doesn’t think an increased police presence will encourage people to support the pandemic restrictions. .
“I think if people are compliant, they’re compliant out of fear. Not because they believe in the need for it.”