2nd of April 2023

It is of serious concern to the community that Victoria Police is apparently having difficulty recruiting sufficient numbers to fill the vacancies created by retirements and other staff exits.

Not only will the community feel the impact of the Police not being available to respond to their needs, but Police will endure substantial frustration not having proper numbers available, with an increased workload falling on those still there. This will substantially accelerate the loss of members through stress-related issues.

We do not need to look too far over the horizon to see a perfect storm brewing into an untenable situation or even a crisis for the Force, and the community, because they are both inextricably linked.

The four significant contributors converging are.

  • Stress on Police

There has been, and continues to be, an escalation in Police leaving due to stress-related issues.

  • Recruits are difficult to attract.

The Force is having difficulty attracting suitable recruits in the current employment environment.

  • Public employee staff cuts

The most recent announcement by the Government to make a substantial cut in Public Service employees, with, at this stage, emergency services, Police, ambulance and Fire services not been quarantined. The impact will be devastating.

  • Impact of Migration

And to magnify the impact of these issues, the net migration intake has exploded, with hundreds of thousands of migrants arriving in Victoria.

What can be done? Quite a lot, actually, and putting one’s head in the sand waiting for the inevitable is not one of them. Secondly, VicPol, as tempting as it may be, must not lower its standards but devise creative ways to cover this shortfall. Altering standards is short-sighted and will lead to worse outcomes down the track. Kicking the can down the road is not a good management strategy.

  • Stress on Police

In our view, there has been less than appropriate management for many members suffering from stress over an extended period. Management seemingly takes the easy way out and funnels members with stress out of the job rather than the more difficult task of facilitating or working with clinicians to overcome the issue. Management lacks the capacity to be innovative and create pathways for solutions to help relieve the stress on individuals, and that anomaly must be addressed

Many members who have left suffering PTSI have two common threads.

    • Police management was a major contributor to the degree of their stress injury, and
    • Following close behind were the insurers and either Workover or Gallagher Bassett, contributing to their issues.

Some sufferers seemed to have been more affected by the above two issues than the issues that caused their stress in the first place. If that seems a contradiction, it is, but they are both issues that should be capable of being addressed relatively easily with VicPol management commitment. Somewhere in the order of fifty per cent of the aggravating problems could be reduced substantially, improving the chances of retaining the member as a worthwhile contributor.

We have always believed that expecting a person suffering, either suspected or confirmed PTSI, to negotiate on their own behalf is unconscionable; they are injured. So instead, each member must be appointed a case manager to assist them with making sound decisions. Implementing such a scheme is essential, but the advocate must be given influence within the organisation, or otherwise, they will be ineffective.

A case manager needs the minimum following attributes;

Maturity -intimate knowledge of Police culture -deep understanding of Force policies, procedures and structure – advanced life skills – proven leadership and communication skills.

Former senior Police officers would be ideally suited for this task.

  • Recruits difficult to attract.

The current employment environment and the image trashing VicPol has suffered in recent years are forces working against the flow of recruits.

The current marketing campaign’s underlying message is ‘ come play with our toys’.

That approach has been tried before without remarkable success and, on some levels, is insulting to the calibre of recruits VicPol would want to attract.

A campaign ‘’are you good enough’ will pay closer to the psych of the recruits VicPol should favour.

Anecdotal feedback suggests that police veterans’ children, who should be a fertile recruiting ground felt they were discriminated against in the recruiting process.

Whether this is a fair criticism, we do not know, but we do know little effort is made to provide a pathway for this potential market.

Although there are signs of improvement, the treatment of veterans by all levels of VicPol has been very negative and also contributed to this resource not producing the number of recruits it could.

  • Public employee staff cuts.

As unpalatable as this is, it will probably only be the Police Association that attacks the Government; VicPol can’t.

However, VicPol can be very smart. These cuts are all about saving money for the Government.

This is work for specialist Actuarial and Financial analytical experts working with creative Police management generally but more specifically in recruiting and staff  resorucing.

VicPol, to its credit, started the move towards establishing a viable reserve, now advertising for former Police to return for a specialised task. That will be an economic saving while achieving Force objectives.

While small-scale, it can be built on.

Although marketing this first approach is a bit rough around the edges, arguably insulting applicants before they consider the offer is not a sensible approach. Nevertheless, it is a positive move and should be lauded, not criticised, by a minority of veterans, as is currently the case.

A stumbling block often put forward is that Police veterans are no longer sworn Police.

For a very long time, Police who had retired retained their Certificate of Identity. The privilege of retaining their ID has never been abused by the thousands of Veterans who have kept them, it is a respect thing.

The same would apply if the Police Regulation Act was amended so that Police veterans retained their status as sworn. At the discretion of the Chief Commissioner, who may withdraw the privilege from individuals if circumstances arise.

The judicious use of these Veterans would save money while maintaining and improving the police service. Retired members are often a bit physically frayed through age, but that does not affect their mental acuity; it just means they can’t jump fences chasing crooks anymore, probably the same for many older members still serving.

It is hoped that VicPol is closely looking at the Military Reserve model for inspiration rather than trying to reinvent the wheel.

  • Impact of Migration

The number of migrants that will be calling Victoria home over the next little while is bordering on scary, particularly if you are charged with the responsibility of ensuring law and order for this new cohort that will come with its own set of cultural and other values that may not be compatible with Australian values or laws.

Of course, VicPol has been dealing with this issue for many years very successfully, as we are a migrant country and welcome their contribution. But we do not recall a time when so many are likely to arrive with issues that we cannot predict . While many commentators focus on the lack of infrastructure to accommodate the large influx, nobody seems to have applied their minds to the impact on Policing.

From a Policing perspective this influx is a bit like getting kicked when you are already on the ground.

Policing could be overwhelmed, leading to chaos.

The migration issue is a classic political move where one arm of the Government makes a decision to serve its needs, and dealing with the consequences is hived off to another level where the pain is really felt.

What we have set out is the prediction of a perfect storm bearing down on VicPol, the damage that may be caused is perhaps irreversible.

The CAA is alerting the organisation so that planning to deal with this perfect storm to be faced, can be escalated to the highest priority to minimise the inevitable damage.