Solid policing plan will always beat a trendy fix

OVER the past few weeks, ordinary Victorians have had to witness what many police are challenged by every day. It’s an awareness that has brought into question their sense of safety and security and to some extent it is quite understandable.

When we see and hear about people committing crime as we have recently, the vulnerability of what is, in relative terms, a safe and secure place to live is highlighted.

When we see some decisions by institutions like our courts that we can’t explain, we begin to feel hopeless.

What we have also witnessed is a general groundswell from the community, an appetite for open and honest debate unhampered by the semantics of politics or the shackles of political correctness.

Honest, unexaggerated debate highlights issues that should be given attention and informs policies on law and order and, more importantly social policy, to aid in the long-term objective of protecting Victorians and the community interest.

This week, police and our political leaders correctly identified that these issues have not suddenly appeared; rather they have built over a period of time. It is an important observation.

 

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The instinctive reaction in a crisis is to look for a simple and immediate response.

To some extent, being reactive is a necessary part of policing in a dynamic environment. It shows that we are strong and capable and that we can carry ourselves through difficult times.

It is a type of leadership that makes us feel safe.

Planning to prevent crisis is different. It tends to go unnoticed and in political circles is rarely a vote winner — but that shouldn’t undermine its importance.

A safe and orderly society is always the result of long-term planning and decision-making years in advance.

Well before this situation was being publicly aired and debated, the Police Association outlined its five-year road map of policing priorities. It’s a statement that looks to the future and calls on our decision makers to plan now for the next five years to prevent future crises. Without wanting to sound overly simplistic, it’s not rocket science. It’s an honest account of what needs to be done to tackle issues like the ones we are seeing playing out now, while seeking to prevent many of tomorrow’s.

This state needs to refocus its policing strategy based on a core pillar: providing a highly visible police patrol and response capability by undertaking a critical evaluation of where police are deployed currently and where they need to be in the future.

Too often we hear from police that we are chasing our tails, reacting to increases in crime stats with a focus on investigation.

There is no doubt that has some merit, but it has come at the expense of crime prevention and community policing.

As it stands, suburban stations are under-resourced and cannot provide the scope of visible patrols the community is expecting following recent events. It can only be achieved via the establishment of minimum staffing standards at all police stations.

We have argued the need to invest in community policing and crime prevention so that we can better identify and engage at-risk members of our community who are more likely to become involved in crime. The success of work like that is not easily measurable, but again, its importance should not be discounted.

Nor should work that is needed to improve our mental health and social support systems and greatly expand options available for police to divert offenders away from criminal activity.

The answer to reducing crime and community concern is not served by entertaining the countless excuses of criminals, young or old. It is about offering alternate pathways, but not endless opportunities to reoffend.

Crime cannot pay, and punishment has a role in preventing and deterring crime.

Yes, rehabilitation and punishment can occur simultaneously and for some young people firm punishment might be the only way that a cycle of offending is broken. We have witnessed our bail system fail us time and again. While we look forward to new bail laws that may improve outcomes, our system will fail unless the ideology of the courts changes with them. It should not be hard to identify the victim in a court case; but at the moment it appears increasingly difficult to find the genuine one when sentencing outcomes and bail decisions focus so heavily on the needs of those who have made conscious decisions to offend.

And for those who choose to assault police or emergency service workers, there should be no question about what needs to happen and why.

Police may not be responsible for everything that happens in the community, but they will often be the first to respond to it. They are a little like a canary in a coal mine. When it goes unchecked, what they experience first will have an impact on all of us.

Listening to police on the street when they identify issues and impediments of the future has always made good sense, given they so often see the warning signs first. The old adage that prevention is better than cure holds true in policing. It may not be trendy in our world of quick fixes and perception management, but it will always be the most effective strategy in countering new and emerging crime trends.

WAYNE GATT IS SECRETARY OF THE POLICE ASSOCIATION - this article originally appeared in the Herald Sun