13th November 2018

The issue of police numbers seem on the surface to be very confusing. On the one hand the Government is claiming number increases and the Opposition claiming the opposite.

The ABC Fact checker claims the Opposition is wrong but shows little understanding of police resourcing leading to misleading outcomes and the ABC  is wrong.

Over recent years the Police numbers (overall) have increased to where Victoria has the highest ratio of sworn Police to every 100,000 population in Australia but also the highest crime rates.

The problem is in the definition of Operational Police that has been blurred in recent years by political manipulation of the real situation.

To understand the issue of the role of Police there are three distinct categories.

  • Operational Police The frontline police working designated shifts generally operating out of Police Stations servicing the needs of the Community – manning the Divisional Vans, foot patrols and conducting other community interaction. They respond to any and every call from the community, they interact with the young and the old, the infirm and the aggressive. There are no boundaries to the demands on their work and they are in the ‘front line’, working to keep their community safe.

When you move past those members the descriptive phase ‘Operational Support Police’ applies. If Operational Police are involved in important duties and from time to time are in harms way their role is Operational Support for the front line Police.

  • Operational Support Police. The Operational Support police are there to do as the name suggests and this includes all the specialist functions including the Special Operations Group, Air Wing, Crime Scene Officers, Task Forces, Squads, Groups or Units, Dog Squad, Water Police, Critical Incident Support Police and a list as long as your arm usually referred to by their acronyms.

Most of these units can be identified by a commonality that they do not work twenty four hour shifts and or they do not respond in the first instance to community needs There are exceptions but they are still Operational Support.

  • Non- Operational Support Police. This covers the rest of the Police service including Management, Command and a wide range of tasks that have little or no Operational contact with the public.

All the functions in these categories are important. However the second and third category must never lose sight of their role,’ Support’. The pendulum can move to where the numbers in Support diminishes the frontline capability, which would on the surface seem to be a problem that has evolved in recent years.

The Government claims that increasing Police numbers is necessary because of population growth and recruiting stagnation over many years is attributable to both major parties are correct. The full benefit of the numbers authorised will not be achieved until 2020.

When the Opposition claims that Operational Police numbers are down, and based on information from frontline Police and the Police Association, they are correct. Explaining, in part, the Crime Tsunami.

Normally the Government of the day does not or should not influence Police allocation of resources. However, when the public is at risk then they have an obligation to intervene at a corporate level ensuring that police allocations are consistent with policing philosophies. That is not a Political interference but an intercurrence.

Where does that leave the voter when the crime Tsunami that has hit is still being felt?

The choices you have are:

Stick with the Government then endure more of the same. We can anticipate as the Police numbers increase the current ratios will remain constant with the pendulum in our view leaning perilously too far away from Operations. If you are satisfied with the ‘status quo’ then that is your call.

The Opposition however has indicated in a number of Policy announcements that they will emphasise Operational Policing, Crime Prevention and, critically, Service Delivery. That means that they will move to adjust the policing philosophies to achieve better operational policing outcomes swinging  the pendulum back to balance.

When casting your vote and  considering this issue remember that all the claims and counter claims are irrelevant it is how safe you feel and the confidence you have if something goes awry that you will receive the service you are entitled.

These are the facts that should influence your decision at the forth-coming election.