A POLICE officer working at a station in south eastern Victoria told the Sentinel-Times this week that officers are still finding last year’s decision to require police to work in pairs difficult.
And he claimed it was having an adverse impact on community safety.
Gippsland police command has a different view but the concerns expressed by a local police officer are being echoed in other parts of the state.
“We’re basically not doing any proactive policing work at all,” he said.
“And we’re not out on patrol as much.
“There’s also a lot more effort going into family violence, which is fair enough, but we haven’t got the numbers we need to do much else.”
As a result, he said, it was taking police longer to follow up on criminal activity, after the initial response.
The officer said that ‘proactive’ policing and regular patrol work not only allowed police to undertake their preventative role but it also enabled them to keep a closer eye on movements within the community, helping with crime and problem solving efforts as they arose later.
“That sort of patrolling is important. You see people getting around at various times and if something happens, you can often put two and two together.”
This work, he said, is not being done as much as it was prior to May 2015 when Victoria Police introduced new safety procedures.
Among other things, police are:
• No longer allowed to work alone in public places or when dealing with reception duties at low security stations
• Not allowed to drive to or leave marked police vehicles at their homes,
• Not allowed to undertake solo highway patrols and
• Required to wear bulletproof vests when on patrol or on reception duties in the station
The safety procedures were introduced to deal with a heightened terrorism threat and threats against police.
And while the policy was relaxed slightly after criticism that thin resourcing in rural areas made implementation difficult, the rules remain in place for highway patrol officers across the state and are still affecting general resourcing.
Although the Police Association welcomed the changes, especially the new guideline on police not working alone, and despite general support from police locally, they concede it has caused resourcing issues.
Impact overstated, he says
Police Superintendent for the Gippsland Division, covering South Gippsland, Bass Coast, Baw Baw and Latrobe Valley, Geoff Kedge, concedes a combination of factors are stretching police resources, not just the change to two-up policy.
He also believes the impact of the policy change has been overstated.
“What the policy did was reassess members’ safety and it changed the guidelines on working one-up,” Chief Super Kedge said.
“But I don’t accept that it has had a major impact.
“Divisional vans responding to calls for assistance were two-up before this and they remain two-up. I don’t accept that it has affected police patrolling, for example, when licensed premises close.
“But I do agree with the contention that police are being stretched by the increased response to family violence and also the increase in crime generally.”
Official crime figures, for the 12 months to March 2016, showed a 14.5 per cent increase in the number of detected offences in Bass Coast Shire and while crime in South Gippsland Shire was down 3 per cent for the year, it was up 8 per cent to alarming levels in Latrobe City.
“Certainly it has had an impact on highway patrol where you previously had two police officers operating two cars, you’ve now got two police in one car. And it has affected one-man police stations where they need to work two-up.”
Chief Super Kedge said there had been an announcement of funding for 300 additional police members and Gippsland was making a business case for an allocation from that number.
“We’ve also freed up police numbers by changing the police custody role at Morwell. We already have nine or 10 Police Custody Officers and will have 22 in total. That should give us an additional 12 to 13 police.”
These, he said, would be likely be allocated to the family violence and Sexual Offences and Child Abuse Investigation Teams (SOCIT).
Mr Kedge said police had also had considerable success forming special Task groups to deal with drugs, assaults, thefts, traffic and other issues, including in Bass Coast and South Gippsland.
“Last week one of our Task groups uncovered 1000 cannabis plants at several locations.
“I would stress, too, with a lot of our work detecting the manufacture and cultivation of drugs that community information is vital. We could do this work without information from the public. Call Crime Stoppers 1800 333 000 to provide anonymous information.
Victoria Police maintains that threats against its members remain high and the lives of officers have been put in danger.