By Michael Giles
MANY members of the Victoria Police Force will be feeling very mixed emotions this week about the suspension of several of their colleagues over an incident covered on ABCTV’s 7.30 Report last week.
The CCTV footage featured on the program shows the treatment of a disabled pensioner, reportedly with mental health issues, in October last year, which everyone in the community would find alarming.
And it’s important that incidents of this kind are properly investigated, and probably not by the police themselves.
But the fact is that the police response to incidents in the community is a highly complex undertaking; made all the more difficult now by the lack of mental health services, the prevalence of the drug ice especially in regional areas, sensitive multi-cultural issues, the number of guns out there and the appropriate emphasis being placed on rolling back family violence.
Turning up at the front door of a house, these days, where there’s been reports of a disturbance, is no walk in the park for police.
And we want them to know, notwithstanding the seriousness of the issue at hand, that the police have the overwhelming support of the community for the very difficult work they do on our behalf.
On many occasions we have witnessed commendable professionalism, patience and understanding by local police officers that goes well beyond the call of duty.
For example, recently outside the Wonthaggi Court-house, a big, strong man with mental health issues was ejected from the court by the magistrate, for disruptive behaviour, and it was the police who had to deal with a highly volatile situation outside.
Despite a stream of abuse and a threatening physical situation, they were able to calm things down without the use of force, when they would have been quite within their rights to arrest and charge the person involved.
Certainly the occasions when excessive force is used should be properly investigated but as a community we also need to acknowledge that it goes with the territory and over-reacting to what is mostly an operational issue could upset the fine balance of law and order.
That’s an even bigger risk to us all.
Of equal, and many would say more importance, is the parlous state of mental health services, especially in country areas, and Gippsland is one of the regions that is most poorly served in this regard.