Victorias police union calls for political parties to implement changes to protect officers
The police union says violent lockdown protests have exposed risks to the force as it demands a list of changes to protect its officers.
Published in the Herald Sun on 19 August 2022
Drug-testing kits in every patrol car and riot gear for all officers are among a raft of police union demands ahead of the November state election.
The union has drawn up a series of reforms it wants both political parties to commit to, calling for 59 key priorities to be implemented in the next four years.
The wish list, compiled by police association secretary Wayne Gatt, includes Victoria recording response times in the same way as other states and every police car being equipped with drug-testing capabilities.
Violent anti-lockdown protests have highlighted the vulnerability of police on the ground, the union says, as it demands riot-style protective equipment for all. “Protests have increased in frequency and volatility during the pandemic,” the document says.
“Victoria Police has put too much emphasis on its public order response team capability, at the extant risk of personal injury to general duties members, who are always required to support large-scale operations.”
It wants all officers to be provided with face-shield helmets, long batons, gloves with knuckle protection and ear pieces.
On recording response times, the association says: “The workload of police and PSOs is ever-increasing … that’s compounded by resourcing shortfalls.
“Yet, when they’re needed most and in what numbers remains a subjective exercise, due to the repeated failure to record, report on and access key indicators.”
The union wants urgent upgrades to a number of metropolitan 24-hour police stations, citing overcrowding and insufficient IT infrastructure as problems, as well as audits of peri-urban stations to meet growing community demands.
The association believes the proposed plan for a CBD injecting room should be abandoned, saying it has potential to “endanger the amenity of the area and the safety of millions of visitors each year”.
They are calling for lifelong free counselling for officers, similar to an Australian Defence Force service, as the scourge of mental health problems among police reaches record highs.
The union’s agenda has been formed after a two-year consultation period with its more than 17,000 police and protective services members.
It comes 100 days ahead of November’s state election, where law and order will be an important topic at the ballot box.
“Our members are the protectors of law and order in Victoria,” Sergeant Wayne Gatt said.
“They are dedicated, passionate and highly experienced professionals who put their lives, health and safety on the line to keep our communities safe.
“Their work has never been as important or challenging as what it is today.”
Sgt Gatt said the document articulated the union’s priorities as Victoria emerged from an “unprecedented period of upheaval in life and policing” across the state.
“Managing a dynamic and often reactive approach to policing in a pandemic has been a challenge our members have risen to, in order to help steer the community through this tumultuous period,” he said.
“Victoria is emerging from crisis. Our police force must adapt and help shape the community’s recovery. The recommendations seek to aid and hasten that transition.
“TPAV urges all political parties to consider the concerns set out … and to work with us to better protect Victoria.”
What Police Want
The association is calling for response times to be recorded in line with all other Australian states and territories.
“As the only Australian mainland state police department to not measure response times, how do we know where we need our people to be,” the union states.
“Our members report that they regularly do not get to jobs. This evidence is only anecdotal, because in the absence of measuring response times, there is no data to tell us where or how often this occurs. Put simply, we cannot know where our weaknesses are, and address them, if we don’t seek to identify them.”
The document highlights Ambulance Victoria and Fire Rescue Victoria are both subject to response times being made “clear and unashamedly public”.
The union believes the proposed injecting room touted for Flinders Street should not go ahead, stating the city is one of the “most complex and difficult” police service areas in the state.
“Plans to introduce a second Medically Supervised Injecting room in the CBD should be abandoned, given the ongoing problems that have plagued the Richmond facility since its inception,” the document states.
“The government’s trial of a MSIR in Richmond has reportedly had a positive impact on heroin-related deaths in the local community. However, it has come at significant detriment to the amenity of the local area and the lifestyle of its residents.
“Members who work in the vicinity of the MSIR and were surveyed by the TPAV confirm the trial has had a detrimental impact on policing and crime since its inception.
“TPA and its members remain extremely concerned that this move has the potential to endanger the amenity of the area and the safety of millions of visitors each year.”
The union says more than 40 per cent of its members do not consider the station they work at to be fit-for-purpose, citing overcrowding and insufficient IT infrastructure as key issues.
“There is urgent need for upgrades and refurbishments,” the document states.
They recommend the replacement of 24-hour police stations including Collingwood, Fitzroy, Cheltenham, Clayton, Flemington, Whittlesea and Greensborough.
They also say Prahran, Nunawading, Doncaster, and Moonee Ponds stations are outdated and require significant renovation.
They also call for the “audit and upgrade” of all 16-hour stations including Caroline Springs, Gisbourne and Drouin, in a bid to support “rapidly growing” communities.
The association wants a bolstered cyber-crime squad, as well as legislative reforms, to help battle the scourge of emerging crimes including those involving cryptocurrency.
“Victoria Police must properly resource an extensive number of sworn cyber, tech-enabled and certified crime operatives across divisions, who can bring specialist and investigative skills to the role,” the union says.
“To best equip Victoria Police to grapple with emerging crimes, a range of legislative changes are required. We recommend that, as a starting point, legislation relating to currency include reference to cryptocurrency, and many property offences should include references to data and digital assets as a form of property.”
To help decrease the road toll associated with drug drivers, the organisation is calling for every police car to be suitably equipped to drug test drivers.
“The number of fatal collisions and injury collisions involving drugs across Victoria have both doubled in the last 10 years,” the union says.
“Despite these damning statistics, police currently don’t have the power to immediately take drivers who test positive in a preliminary roadside drug test, off the road. This has to change.
“Every police vehicle should have the capacity to conduct preliminary oral fluid drug tests on drivers.
“Police should be able to issue infringements and commence proceedings for drug impaired drivers at the roadside, without the need to wait for secondary testing, which currently results in significant delays to the administration of justice.”
There was a year-on-year 10 per cent spike in Victoria’s road toll in 2021.
The union says violent anti-lockdown protests during the pandemic have highlighted the vulnerability of police on the ground and the need for a boost in personal protective equipment for all officers.
“Protests have increased in frequency and volatility during the pandemic,” the document states.
“Too often members on the frontline have not been provided adequate safety equipment. “Victoria Police has put too much emphasis on its Public Order Response Team capability, at the extant risk of personal injury to general duties members, who are always required to support large-scale operations.”
They recommend general duties members are “urgently equipped” with suitable personal protective equipment that “sufficiently mitigates” the predictable risk of injury at violent demonstrations.
They want all officers to be provided with face-shield helmets, long batons, gloves with knuckle protection and ear pieces to enhance use or radios at future events.
“The provision of groin and shin protection should also be considered,” the union says.
The union cites shift work, high workload, poor rostering, increasing role expectations, a high-pressure working environment and a reliance on unpaid overtime as key reasons officers are vulnerable to poor mental health.
They want a strengthened current system as well as support systems in place for veterans as they retire.
“Lifelong support should be an essential component of mental health services made available to veterans,” the union says.
They recommend a veterans-specific program akin to that which exists in the Australian Defence force, be established.
They want police veterans to have access to lifelong free counselling, mirroring the Open Arms service that exists within the Australian Defence Force.