6th January 2024

The protected industrial action involving Victoria Police members and the Government has piqued our interest. We hope fervently that the matters are resolved quickly so that the service we expect from our Police Force is not further compromised.

Although police members have strongly indicated that community public safety will not be compromised, the mere fact that an industrial dispute is festering will distract police no matter how genuine their intention is.

Historically, the industrial issues that raise their head every few years could be correlated to a rise in the staff dissatisfaction index (if there was one).

A workforce that does not feel appreciated is poorly or over-managed and fails to achieve a satisfactory level of ‘job satisfaction’, which is the root cause of employee dissatisfaction, inevitably leads to industrial disputes when the employer adopts a strident approach.

We are not convinced that the negotiated issues as reports will resolve anything in the long term.

The stumbling blocks to a negotiated settlement are complex but seem to boil down to primarily finance and shift arrangements.

As for the financial component, there should be no hesitation in finding common ground. The Government must realise that for police to gain job satisfaction and perform at a higher standard, they must be appropriately renumerated.

The other ‘hot button’ issue is nine-hour shifts and nine-day fortnights; in our view, the opposing argument proffered by the Chief Commissioner is sound.

We are concerned that this ‘shift’ timing change may lead to less productivity as, anecdotally, we are constantly advised that the public does not always receive an adequate or timely response from police now, and there is no guarantee that this situation is likely to improve with current arrangements.

We are also concerned that police will suffer accumulated fatigue working consecutive nine-hour shifts. That can compromise the Police and the community’s safety.

Our most significant concern is that if this proposal gets up, the community will suffer, and job satisfaction issues will not have been addressed.

That will translate into the Force only being capable of providing even fewer police responses and reducing police proactive (prevention) work even further, possibly even eliminating it.

The visible Police presence will become more mythical than real.

Some of the critical issues are,

  • Police management. There has been substantial growth in the appointment of Senior executives, and with that, many lesser senior ranks to support the executive class are required. That translates to Police being removed from Operational tasks to backfill the administrative vacancy line these promotions create. This also means the executives need something to do to justify their appointment, so decisions are drawn up to fill the allotted resource time, taking the power from the decision-makers closer to where the issue occurs. That is a fundamental and flawed management principle. Quality decisions are best achieved by those closer to the issue and, therefore, better understand what is at stake and the consequences.

This vital principle is critical to an organisation responsible for life and death issues. Less operational staff equals more workload for others, more stress and less job satisfaction, which will translate into more sick days; the inertia of this process will start eroding the organisation further as it gathers energy.

  • Nine-hour shifts.

Eight hours in a shift is enough.

The disruption to members’ lives as management struggles to cover the 24-7  police response can be disastrous and not worth the extra day off. The loss of productivity (reduced service delivery) hurts the community, but nobody would decry renumerating members who do put the extra time in.

Appropriate remuneration is reasonable if adequately managed, perhaps electronically, is fair. Still, the additional rest day per fortnight will take years to recruit and train enough Police to replace the days lost yearly. Recruits do not grow on trees, nor does the funding; paying the existing staff for their work would be better. Finding training and accommodating the extra police will take years; in the meantime, the current members will carry the additional workload.

This would exasperate stress-related health issues across the organisation and adversely impact personal relationships rather than improving work-life balance.

  • Legal system destroying police,

It is hugely frustrating for Police who, after a lot of hard and sometimes dangerous work, arrest a criminal and prepare what is a detailed brief of evidence only to have the courts easily persuaded by the flimsiest excuses to grant Bail, putting the criminal back on the streets. All police must deal with frustrations imposed by Courts, which is part of the job; however, it has become an endemic issue evident since the introduction of Restorative Justice.

Ironically, and adding to the police frustration, the Restorative Justice model that in application removes personal accountability from criminals was heralded as a breakthrough that would reduce crime. However, it turned out to be just another academic folly that damages the community fabric rather than helping it, with the Police carrying the brunt.

  • Sentencing of offenders

Once a conviction is achieved, the sentencing has gone awry, and its inconstancy has become ubiquitous throughout the Court system.

Offenders are more likely to go to jail for fraud offences, dubbed ‘white-collar crime’, particularly against the Government, than multiple aggravated burglaries or many violent offences. The ignominy of this approach to justice is the ‘white-collar’ criminals creating fiscal mayhem and then further imposing on their victim (taxpayer) to be housed in jail. This approach seriously dilutes any deterrent value.

White-collar criminals should never go to jail; money is their motivator, not liberty, but they must be required to repay their debt incurred to the victims and or the State. Having an aggressively pursued restitution sentencing arrangement will not only become a disincentive for others; the repayment may take many years, creating a better deterrent. This will provide for greater capacity within Corrections for violent criminals to be sentenced and jailed appropriately, giving, amongst other advantages, police the opportunity to feel their work in trying to keep the community safe has an impact not being undermined by the Courts.

  • Social engineering

Social engineering proponents rarely consider the unintended consequences of their fantasies because their knowledge of the issue is purely academic and often out of touch with reality. It is these fantasies that bear heavily on the police psyche, who suffer the ignominy of having the tools to maintain social order removed from them but will be criticised for inaction against disorder as a result. It is like outlawing hammers for carpenters and expecting them to build a house.

Public drunkenness – Police power to pick up drunks has been removed, but no effective alternative has been provided statewide. Drunks are people who are cognitively impaired by alcohol, drugs, or both, so asking them what they want has questionable efficacy. The promised drunk tanks and the like are so mired in red tape and conditions that they are a waste of time. The closest some of the proponents of this initiative come to drunks are at cocktail parties and never see the belligerent drunks police regularly deal with. It would do them some good having to deal with, in police historical parlance, a dirty 30; they will quickly change their views.

  • Medically supervised injecting rooms (MSI) – How a government can fall for the spin of drug apologists is beyond comprehension. The MSI hurts the community, not only where it is located. It only tolerates a specific clientele and has no impact on helping the addicts to stop using. It does, however, facilitate wider drug use, a windfall for the drug trade. The function of the MSI was to be the vanguard in normalising drug addiction, and it forms part of the central plank of the apologist’s agenda. The normalisation of addiction, if the apologists hold sway, will inflict Melbourne in the same way the same strategy has destroyed the liveability of many international cities that have gone down this path and are now struggling to reverse the trend.
  • Raising the age of criminal accountability – This initiative will court disaster by removing any semblance of disincentives for young offenders. It will most likely increase the offending, not reduce it. Still, it is very clever as there will be no measure of success or otherwise because the privacy provisions would prohibit gathering data on children who have not been charged with an offence because of their age.

As with many social engineering initiatives, no case has been presented on how these children will be dealt with. Most will keep offending until they are old enough to be charged. The unlawful behaviour will be entrenched with little hope of effective diversion. The reality of the folly of this issue was recently highlighted when a carer was allegedly murdered by a 13-year-old in her care.

The age of her assailant does not influence how dead she is. As is often the case, there has been no thought on how Police might deal with an underage juvenile committing a violent offence as they are not old enough to be charged, let alone arrested.

It also begs the question of what happens to the Police Cautioning Program responsible for diverting hundreds of young people a year from a life of crime– young children will now presumably not receive a caution until they are over 14. For many, that is far too late. The unlawful behaviour and the adrenalin rush it creates will be entrenched in their character- the hope of correcting the behaviour is minimal at best.

  •  Domestic Violence –

This community blight has the most significant adverse impact on Police. Police are attending domestic disturbances every 9 minutes, that is over ninety thousand (90,000). A third (36.7%) of those incidents involved a person who had previously been involved in Domestic violence, which indicates the abject failure of the current system.

An expensive Royal Commission was completed in 2015 with 207 recommendations. There has been no appreciable evidence that the Commission has impacted the frequency and severity of domestic disputes in nearly a decade since the government adopted its findings. The Commission’s failure is even more dramatic when considering they have spawned a vast Domestic Violence Industry and the imposition on the police of an array of non-core tasks, making the minimum time required at each event 4 hours, but usually many more.

Calls for help for other matters requiring Police can go unanswered because all police can be tied up on domestic violence matters.

The police role must be redefined and restricted to keeping the peace and prosecuting the offender if any offences are detected. Then, the matter is for the Welfare agencies and the Courts to arbitrate as it should be.

Welfare agencies have abrogated their responsibility to the police, who should not be used as the Welfare services lackeys; these services must apply their resources to the tasks and take a reactive role in real-time; these experts cloistered in their offices must get to where the problem occurs.

They need to do their job.

  • Rreview the Police role.

A review of the Police’s role in the domestic space will go a long way to solving the workforce issue within VicPol, particularly the burnout of members. It will also contribute substantially to the effectiveness of policing overall in a cost-effective way.

While there is no doubt that more police are required overall, this alternate approach will free up police resources for other police duties very quickly, not having to wait until recruits are trained and integrated. Additionally, there will be an immediate benefit in removing or reducing the harmful effect on members of having to spend so much time dealing with the burgeoning number of Domestics while being aware that other pressing Police matters are not getting the attention they require.

  • Police Recruiting

It seems that the ‘elephant in the room’ is that recruiting is not being adequately managed. We are not referring to individuals delivering the system; they try very hard to get it right, but it needs major surgery.  The inertia of a failing recruiting function can poison any organisation; in Policing, it can be catastrophic.

Viewed from the outside, the recruiting process has been built by a series of add-ons, with each component added without proper evaluation of the nett effect; a review is essential.

Though we do not have access to the exact processes, anecdotally, the time it takes for recruits to be processed is ridiculous. Aspiring recruits, many of good quality, are not pursuing the Policing career because of roadblocks the system places on them. Principally, the costs incurred by each applicant. Some, again, anecdotal information suggests applicants are forking out circa $2000 to apply. We acknowledge that much of this is optional, but it is marketed to improve the chances of the applicant’s appointment. However, the industry it has spawned hurts the recruiting process. It creates a false persona for applicants who are coached and are not being assessed on their natural ability, an essential attribute.

VicPol recruiting paraphernalia includes a list of suppliers who offer these services, which suggests that the use of these companies is supported, encouraged and endorsed by VicPol; this is a severe conflict of interest that seemingly nobody has picked up. The criteria for inclusion as a preferred supplier may need investigation to ensure efficacy.

When the delays to successful applicants drag out too many months or even years, expecting potential recruits to hang in limbo is disgraceful and must be reviewed urgently. Less reliance must be placed on the recruiting process, which by any measure has been failing VicPol.

Greater emphasis must be placed on the performance of recruits during training, and their probationary period should be extended to four years to weed out those unsuitable and ensure that the recruits are retained in operations for that period at least.

From inquiry to employment, it must be no more than a month for suitable applicants only affected by the available training places.

How does this impact the industrial relations impasse?

As it turns out, these issues have a broader impact than the current industrial situation, which must be viewed as a symptom of more general problems.

Given the issues we have listed, and there are others, the critical question management must answer is,

‘Why would a Police member be motivated to work in this environment?’

The numbers of frontline Police are continually dwindling, putting more load on those remaining. Little wonder the average recruit will only spend four years operationally on the street before seeking alternative employment within the Force or elsewhere. The cost to develop a recruit’s skills to a level of competency for a short career tenure is not cost-efficient.

Each of these issues has a profound effect on the Police members.

This also feeds into the explosion of stress-related health issues for Police and the impact that has on service delivery and the individual members and their families.

The current EBA negotiations are not the panacea and will achieve little, irrespective of the outcome, without addressing the core issues.

Further industrial action can be reasonably anticipated in the not-too-distant future.