Backing our fine blue line

THE provision of a well-funded and well-resourced police force always has to be a fine balancing act between public benefit and expenditure.

Especially so at a time when Victoria will be laden with pandemic-related debt for years, if not decades.

The state’s police union today is announcing its election recommendations to both major parties in a bid to improve the force and its members.

If nothing else, today’s release, along with Opposition Leader Matthew Guy’s announced intention to scrap the Labor government’s Suburban Rail Loop plan if elected, signals that the 2022 state election campaign is under way, with fewer than 100 days until polling day.

The Police Association Victoria election document containing 59 recommendations for the next four years is no thrown-together wishlist of ambit claims, it consists of real-world concerns and ways to make the force more efficient.

And it has been compiled after two years of consultation from more than 17,000 police and protective services members.

Law and order is not a front-of-mind campaign issue at the moment as transport infrastructure and the state’s health crisis dominates the agenda. But the police voice deserves to be heard.

The often violent lockdown and mandate protests of the past three years underlined the vulnerability of frontline officers and emphasised the need for the best protective equipment available.

“Protests have increased in frequency and volatility during the pandemic,” the document says.

It’s not surprising then that there is a call to ramp up that frontline safety by giving rank-and-file officers riot-style protective equipment.

The union wants all general duties officers – not just those in the Public Order Response Team – to be provided with face-shield helmets, batons, gloves with knuckle protection and ear pieces.

It would be a costly call but anything that ensures the workplace safety of officers has to be seriously considered by whichever political party holds the purse strings after November 26.

Indeed, police were often at the forefront of violent enforcement during the pandemic restrictions, and also at times were forced into positions they would never have anticipated – such as patrolling playgrounds to ensure they were not played on.

A properly resourced and efficient police service is vital for community confidence, especially at a time when emergency response times for the ambulance service have been appalling – at times life-threatening.

Victorians can ill afford those sorts of delays to occur when police are called to emergencies.

It’s no surprise, then, that one of the association’s key claims is for response times to actually be recorded, as they are in all other mainland states and territories.

This claim seems so obvious that it barely needs the pressure of an election campaign to introduce it. Let’s not hide the evidence.

Release of response data will also help identify where the service’s shortcomings are.

Generally, the police union’s recommendations reflect changes in society and highlight the need to be a modern force reacting to a rapidly changing world.

The prevalence of illicit drugs in our neighbourhoods has prompted the push to equip every police car with drug-testing capability.

The campaign wishlist, of course, has to be considered in light of the state’s dire financial realities.

 Some moves won’t cost any money though, such as abandoning the state government’s proposal for a supervised drug injecting room in the Melbourne CBD.

The union says it would “endanger the amenity of the area and the safety of millions of visitors each year”.

For a start, the government can deal with this by releasing its long-overdue report by Ken Lay into the facility proposal – before the election.

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