12th July 2022

On many issues, the CAA is in lockstep with the Police Association (TPAV), but sometimes that step is out of kilter a little bit, as is the case with the TPAV recent announcement as a solution to the dire staffing levels at Police Stations,

 ‘New police numbers, together with MOU to send police back into stations’.

The research that the TPAV has done is identical to the feedback that the CAA has received about the appalling situations in many stations that are just unable to perform their critical functions because of staff shortages.

This is not just a COVID problem; although it has exaggerated the issue, it was evident before the pandemic.

The common issue is that on paper, the staff levels seem solid until you drill down to the actual availability of the members of a station to perform station duties.

The stations cannot maintain patrols, and closing a Police Station for a shift is now a regular occurrence across the state.

Pleas for help from the community are ramped; sound familiar.

The appalling reality is that the delivery of reactive services are failing and any hope of even basic proactive policing remains a dream.

Where we are out of step with the TPAV is the solution.

For all those members who are doing it tough with a never-ending cycle of night and other less palatable shifts because there is nobody else to do them, the two-year wait for extra numbers and the TPAV meeting with VicPol twice a year is hardly encouraging or even looks like a solution; a bit of kicking the can down the road at best.

Looking at what has been done, it is actually nothing.

The TPAV supports, as we do, a move to preventing crime as a priority. Still, there is no hope of fulfilling this objective unless a solution to the staffing problem is found rather than the protracted, possible, maybe approach accepted by the TPAV. They were sold a pup.

Our greatest concern, equal in importance to service delivery capability, is the welfare of members. Those members left at stations carrying an unfair workload will continue to fall, succumbing to health issues, including burnout.

Standing by while members are falling is not in our DNA.

The current number of members counted on station rosters who require flexible or part-time arrangements will continue to escalate and is the primary cause of the problem. The TPAV did not seem to address this issue.

We are aware of one station, and there are many like it, where ten members, or a third of their staff, are on flexible hours, making them unavailable for specific shifts and duties. But they are shown on the roster as full-time members.

It is no small feat balancing, Maternity, Paternity, Annual, Special, Military,  Study, Sick and Long Service leave impacts and family commitments on a Station Roster. Still, when that is exacerbated to the degree of adversely affecting the ability of the police station to provide a modicum of service delivery, the problem is dire.

Meetings, plans and forward projections will not alleviate the inevitable continued decline of station staff numbers and, as a consequence, the ineffective policing of the state.

Hand wringing is theatre, not a result.

The much-lorded Capability Plan has turned out to be a dud, but as we said at its launch, it had pretty pictures.

If the plan worked, how come the capability position is as it currently is?

As more members burn out, the numbers seeking either sick leave, flexible hours or part-time work will increase; this phenomenon has built inertia that will exponentially grow.

Meetings and promises that may be achieved in two years are all things the hard-working members have heard before; they need the confidence that the issues will be addressed now.

This problem is an emergency, and if action is not taken immediately, expect a further decline to where VicPol is theoretically insolvent in Service delivery, unable to repay the debt it owes society.

We call on the Chief Commissioner to establish an Inspectorate to address the staffing issue at Police Stations, among other administrative problems.

The first and urgent role of the Inspectorate is to identify members in positions who can be seconded back to Police Stations in exchange for members whose time availability is compromised.

No part of VicPol should be quarantined from this process.

This process will be unpopular with some members, but the overwhelming majority of members currently carrying excessive workloads are entitled to the consideration.

We are not proposing altering current arrangements with individual members, just their work location and function.

This is a significant staffing reset; however, it is critical if the force is to retain staff and reduce the impact of burnout. The focus up until now has been on the rights or work-life issues of those who seek special conditions.

We have no difficulty with that concept; however, it is time to move the pendulum back to protecting the police who protect us, and they should receive the full support of VicPol and all Victorians. Their welfare is also a priority.

To be effective, the Inspectorate has to be independent of any line authority that may impact or try to influence its work, and it must be pragmatic. Hence, the Inspectorate Commander must report directly to the Chief Commissioner.

This radical plan is not a total solution but may set benchmarks to avoid the current level of difficulty replicating in the future.

There is nothing new in this dramatic approach. New South Wales Police had a problem with a dearth of experience in the metropolitan area, although that is where the most crime and disorder was. The experienced police had vacated to the country, and a major realignment of personnel was carried out to bring experienced members back into the areas of most need.

When faced with extraordinary problems, it requires extraordinary solutions, and this issue must be addressed before any more members crash- this is a Victoria Police emergency.