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The officer hit the back of the head trying to separate the group of 50 youths

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A police officer has been punched twice in the back of the head in an attempt to destroy a large group of youths in the west west of Melbourne.

Four people were arrested after police responded to a group gathered in an oval on Long Tree Drive in Harkness on Tuesday afternoon.

A police spokesman said the group of about 50 youths were suspected of throwing bottles around when police arrived around 5pm.

He claimed an officer was spat upon when police tried to move the youths with a warning of violating the chief health officer’s restrictions.

“As police tried to arrest a man, they were placed by about five to 10 other people and an officer was punched twice in the back of the head,” the spokesman said.

Three police officers were treated for non-life-threatening injuries.

Police arrested three men and a woman while the rest of the crowd fled.

The youths were taken into custody and interviewed overnight.

A 17-year-old boy has been charged since assaulting police and cheating and returned to face the juvenile court.

Three others – a Harkness woman, 25, and two Brookfield men, ages 23 and 18 – have been released and are expected to be charged with calls to prevent police and coronavirus violations.

There has recently been an increase in violence against police, highlighted by several ugly clashes in anti-blockade protests across the city, including an officer breaking his nose and a police horse kicking him.

Deputy Commissioner Neil Paterson said he had noticed a “really sharp increase” in recent weeks in the use of force against members of the Victoria Police.

He said there were three armed robberies last week where members of the public police with whom they had interacted had tried to remove the weapon from an officer.

He said a police woman was knocked unconscious last week and there had been four incidents when police were confronted with knives, sticks or bars.

“We are seeing a particular escalation of violence against police,” Mr Paterson said.

“Certainly is certainly something we are aware of and the safety of our members performing their duties while protecting the entire Victorian community is something that is very important to us.

“Our members do not come to work wanting to use force against anyone. “We want all our members to go home safe.”

A senior cop who violated in the head of Timothy Atkins during an arrest in Epping on Sunday was also stopped with pay, while the officer who collided with him with a police car had his authority to drive a suspended police vehicle.

Both incidents are now under investigation by the broad-based Independent Anti-Corruption Commission, which has the ability to file criminal charges.

Mr Paterson said Mr Atkins’s head injury was “an inappropriate use of force”.

Anyone with information on the Harkness incident is encouraged to contact Crime Stoppers at 1800 333 000.

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