Patton of policing

Meet the new Chief Commissioner

The TPAV Journal’s Brendan Roberts sat down with new Chief Commissioner Shane Patton, to talk about his career, his life away from the job and what he wants the force to represent for members under his leadership.

What drove you to become a police officer in the first place?

I wish I could give some altruistic reason, but I grew up in a country town in Seymour, and my brother, who was a year older than me, became a police cadet.

He said it was a good job, plus I was bored in a country town and I wanted to get down to Melbourne.

But I very quickly fell in love with the job, just the varied things you get to do and engage in, that’s when I knew it was for me and it’s been my life since.

Tell us about your career within Victoria Police

In the early 80s, I started out at Brunswick as my training station.

I can still remember my first day on the divisional van, it was with Rod Wilson, who turned into a fantastic and respected police officer in homicide.

We used to patrol outside ‘Bombay Rock’ in Brunswick.

Then I went to Russell Street for a stint, to Coburg for general patrol duties, with old school detectives like John Morrish, just catching crooks and looking after the community, it was great fun.

Then I went to special duties at Ascot Vale, where you got to grow your hair long, wear plain clothes and sit in pubs and knock off SP bookmakers, which was a pretty good job as a young bloke.

I became a detective at St Kilda CI for 6-7 years during the big heroin wave, which was a very busy time, under the guidance of people like Rowland Legg and Bernie Rankin.

From there, I became a Sergeant in uniform police stations, went back to the CI in Prahran, was promoted to Senior Sergeant in Internal Investigations,

I then became an Inspector at Transit Public Safety Command.

I got promoted to Superintendent at the Traffic Camera Division, went out to Dandenong to look after that Division.

I got a call from Simon Overland asking me to work as his Chief of Staff, then after his resignation, I became Ken Lay’s Chief of Staff for a while.

I became Assistant Commissioner at State Emergency and Security, then the AC for North-West Metro and then Deputy Commissioner in charge of Specialist Operations, covering terrorism and intel and covert support, where we disrupted several terrorist attacks.

Eighteen months ago, I moved over to Regional Operations and then onto Chief Commissioner.

What did you find most challenging about policing?

One, is juggling competing demands.

For any member nowadays, you’re not just asked to do one thing.

If you think about it, we want you to focus on volume crime, because that’s really important, that drives the state’s stats, but we also want you to focus on high impact/high harm crime, because that’s what is most harmful to the community, the car jackings, the home invasions, and the like.

But, you’ve also got to do emergency management, so you’ve got to run the bushfires as well and the COVID-19 response and you’ve also got to do all the stuff you need to do for day-to-day business and put a van on the road for the burglaries and thefts, and engage with the community.

The most challenging thing is making sure (you know) what is your core objective, and it's about community safety.

One thing has got to be your priority and that is community safety and engagement.

It’s about being absolutely clear on what is a ‘must do’ and what is a ‘nice to do’.

At its core, the public will measure us, measure me, on crime, road trauma and how safe they feel, both the reality and the perception of it.

It’s about driving down crime, community safety and everything that falls beneath that.

What advice would you give a graduating constable today?

Mick Miller used a quote, he said, “being a police officer is like having a 24/7 ticket to the greatest show on Earth” and it is absolutely true, you get to see people at their best and their worst, you get to experience so many things and situations that your training will put a framework around, but you can never plan for what a situation will bring.

Even six months ago, if you had have said we’d be planning for a pandemic where we had to task people to make sure people wouldn’t fight over toilet paper at a supermarket, or giving infringements to people who are visiting other people, or putting up vehicle check points to restrict movement where people want to go surfing, you can never know what’s around the corner.

The advice from me would be that there’s a role for specialisation within the organisation, but there’s also a key aspect about having the agility to be able to work across the whole organisation, and for us to be able to move people where we need them.

I think my advice to people would be that you’re better off moving around and experiencing as many different areas, because it will make you so much better as a police officer.

If you are diverse in your experiences of where you work, it will make you a better police officer, a more well-rounded person, have a better appreciation of the community, but also stand you in good stead for further promotion and give you the ability to be able to do so many things so much better.

Who is Shane Patton away from the uniform?

I only really have one very close friend who is a police officer, I have a lot of friends who are colleagues.

I made a conscious decision when I joined that I would maintain a friendship group external to the police, so that I always get the reality of life.

I have friends who are chefs, property developers, nurses, a whole range of different occupations not associated with policing, and they keep me very grounded.

I love exercising, going for a jog.

I love travelling, I have travelled extensively throughout the world.

I’ve gotten to see and experience lots of different places.

It makes you appreciate how lucky we are here, but also the diversity that exists right across the world and the different challenges people face.

You’ve spent time on the front line of policing – what has that taught you about policing?

How important is it in the big picture of policing?

Everyone in the organisation is absolutely vital, and one of the messages I’ve been saying is that if you look at your role, be it out on the van or in an office, and you don’t see how you’re contributing to community safety, well then you probably aren’t doing the right role.

Frontline incorporates so many different areas, not just uniform, it’s detectives, forensic officers etc, it’s a wide brush.

But they are absolutely vital because they are the ones who deliver the services, they are the ones who make the hard decisions, who in the middle of the night have to suck in a deep breath when feeling anxiety or are frightened because they have to go into a factory that’s completely pitch dark and there are offenders in there.

The frontline is everything.

They are the ones who experience the pressures.

That’s why it’s important for us to stay in touch with reality about the demands on the frontline.

They’re the ones who are taking the risks and doing the hard yards and they’re the ones who need to absolutely be supported by me and command.

What does your vision for community policing mean for the officer working at a suburban police station?

I want them to be doing a number of things.

As they say: you’ve got to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time.

We absolutely need to be arresting people and holding them to account.

If someone is on a couple of counts of bail, they shouldn’t be getting a free kick and being bailed again, we should be taking them before courts and seeking their remand.

We can address crime rates by actual arrests, that is a significant component of it.

As well as that, we need to be preventing crime.

I was in New York last year and saw their neighbourhood policing model and speaking with Glen Weir, who has recently launched Comm Connect, which is a neighbourhood policing model, it’s about ownership, it’s about relationships with the community and understanding them, listening to them and delivering what they want.

If someone is constantly doing burnouts in your street or damaging your letterbox, these are the things that we need to address.

The local police officer, I want him or her to come to work , do their job to the best they can, focus on one thing at a time and do it properly, give really good customer service, listen to the community and be engaged in initiatives to prevent crime, but at the same time, hold people to account through arresting and proper investigation.

What would your message be for a Senior Sergeant running a police station – what should he or she expect to change or re-focus on?

I’d say firstly thank you, because they do a fantastic job.

I was a Senior Sergeant in charge of Prahran police station, so I absolutely understand the challenges that they have and are exacerbated and made more complex by where we are now.

What I would say to them is, as I would say to all of our members, I want them to make decisions, I want them to set proper standards of culture and of accountability.

They should also feel empowered, that they have the permission to make decisions, they set the standards, they know what we’re expecting.

It’s about community safety, as long as they are acting in good faith and within reason, then they have my total support and that of Command.

Policy is for guidance, you must operate within policy but if a decision needs to be made and you’re acting in good faith, then for me, we’ll back your judgement, we’ll back you.

You talk about implementing a more visible police presence in the community and on the roads, what are some of the ways we may be able to achieve that?

We’ve been involved for the last five years in a modernisation program, by that I mean we now have hand held devices that enable you to do work in the field, we’ve got a new neo intelligence system which has cut down times for members to be able to do work and analyse things.

We’re aiming to have 3,135 extra police.

We’ve now got the Police Assistance Line, which has freed up more time from counter enquiries.

We’ve got a range of modernisation initiatives that are freeing up more time for our members at the same time that we’re getting thousands more members, so we look at that and say let’s use that time and those numbers to make police more visible in our shopping centres, in public places, in crowded places and (have people) feeling reassured by police and PSOs being around, as well as seeing police cars on the freeways.

Apart from reassuring people, it’s also reminding them that they could get caught.

What are some of the bigger criminal challenges facing police now and into the future?

What do we need to focus on, or renew our focus on? High impact crimes, car jackings, home invasions, aggravated burglaries.

While the numbers are low, any one number is too significant, these are the things we really need to tackle.

Drugs always has been and always will be a significant issue for police.

We’ll soon be putting out a drugs strategy to give greater guidance about how we tackle drug crime and what we should be looking at.

Cyber crime is ever present, family violence has and will be a significant crime, we attend a family violence incident once every six minutes.

You also can’t take your eye off terrorism, because it’s ever-present and child sexual abuse.

These are some of the key crimes that we really need to be addressing.

What’s the greatest challenge that lies ahead for you in this role?

We can’t operate or do anything without public trust and confidence and for me, it’s about making absolutely sure that we have the public’s trust.

The financial environment we’re currently in, as well, financial sustainability is the key issue, it will impact policing, as it will everywhere, because there’s less money around post bushfires and post COVID-19.

Also, members knowing we have their backs, that they have our support and that we’re doing everything we can to ensure their mental health and wellbeing.

Our ongoing VEOHRC reforms are really significant and that we maintain that approach to diversity and gender equity. Service delivery reform is another big thing.

In the next few months, we will have a team analysing and looking at everything we’re doing to see if we are doing it right and in a timely manner.

Are we delivering the services that need to be delivered and can we deliver them better?

So, that will be a huge bit of reform for us.

What legacy do you want to leave at the end of your tenure as Chief Commissioner?

A community that not only feels safer but is safer, it’s as simple as that, and a police force where the members know that they’re highly respected by the public, the public trusts them and that when they come to work, they’re confident that they know the decisions they make will be backed up by Command.