16th July 2021

Another of the very vexed issues confronting policing is the issue of police Service Delivery.

The Community Advocacy Alliance (CAA) has regularly received anecdotal reports of service delivery failure by police members.

We suspect some of the issues raised with us are because there is no mechanism that the public feels confident about bringing the matter to VicPol attention.

A couple of examples.

  1. The proprietors of an Asian Grocery in a shopping strip were so frustrated with the amount of blatant stealing happening in their store they resorted to enlarging pictures to paste on the shop front and throughout the store showing perpetrators clearly identifiable in the act. A shaming strategy.

The store owners had become sick of contacting the Police, who never attended. The local Station Commander was notified, and he contacted the shop owners and advised them to ring his station. The owners tried but found that extremely difficult and time-consuming as they had to wade through the myriad of options offered. They had no idea which would be the correct option to select. This was a small business with usually only the owner present, so hanging on a phone line for what seemed like an eternity was just too hard with legitimate customers queued up for Service.

  1. A member of the CAA had to visit a police station. While waiting to be attended to, the person in front relayed a tale to the attending member on the not unsubstantial thefts that had occurred at his business perpetrated by an employee. The businessman was advised that those type of thefts are civil matters and was not a Police matter. No crime reports were taken.

At best, this was ignorance by the police member but more likely laziness and the knowledge that there would be no repercussions for his actions. Like in all matters involving behaviour, human or otherwise, unless there is a likelihood of a consequence for bad or non-compliant conduct, a correction is unlikely.

We have also received advice from a retired Chief Superintendent.

  1. Traveling along a major thoroughfare at a slow pace because of traffic congestion, a vehicle charged out of a side street, turning left, sideswiping the ex-members car. The offending vehicle did not stop but took off at speed, weaving through traffic recklessly like a fleeing villain.

 Lo and behold, there just happened to be Div Van in the same traffic flow, and when the ex-member spoke to the members in the van, they claimed they didn’t see anything. Failing to even get out of the van, the members advised the ex to report it at the station as they were on their way to a burglary. The burglary was in the same area as where the offending vehicle had come.

The next day the ex, dutifully reported the incident at a Police station and handed over the number of the offending vehicle. The attending member made inquiries and advised the ex that the car that had sideswiped him was stolen. The attending member was clearly annoyed and did not attempt to justify the actions, or more precisely, the inaction of the van crew.

Any half-competent police member having only a moderate degree of situational awareness and experience should have suspected a link between the fleeing vehicle to the burglary. Of course, we have no way of knowing if it was, but most members would put a quid on it that it was the crooks.

Victoria Police has established a Service Delivery Command, and that is a very positive step; however, Service Delivery does not happen or is not measured at the command level but where the organisation interacts with the public, where the rubber hits the road.

There have been a number of corporate initiatives that seem to be of good value, but that is the wrong end to start to bring about change.

A couple of standout failures that, if rectified, would improve Service Delivery very quickly; the member’s attitude is one, but technology is the primary culprit.

Firstly, the telecommunications protocols set up of VicPol need a major overhaul.

We are strong advocates for the Police Advice Line (PAL), but unfortunately, the organisation saw this as a way to redirect all manner of issues away from the police stations.

Police stations got onto the wagon and designed answering services for calls offering a multitude of options to redirect callers within the Police Station. Always notably excluding the Officer in charge option.

The caller does not operate the station; the staff within it do, so all incoming calls must be answered by an assigned member, and they can redirect if necessary. In practice, this current approach has shades of the ‘send the fool further, and they will lose interest’ or alternatively ‘our work is too important to be answering phones‘.

The executive needs to make some calls to test the system. We suggest extending past Police Stations and try to ring somebody within the organisation using the police headquarters number. From a public’s perspective, a logical number in many circumstances. Provided the call is made during office hours and not during the one-hour daily shut down for lunch, they will find the operator unable to assist and, in our experience, exhibiting disinterest.

After hours, good luck. Not having an after-hours service is disgraceful in a State that now functions 24/7 and has done so for many years.

It may not be an issue for Police members; they have access to the police intranet to locate direct phone numbers. The public does not have a competent directory, online or otherwise. The online function at https://m.vic.gov.au/contactsandservices/directory/?ea0_lfz149_120.&organizationalUnit&6a9c1235-0bdc-401c-a080-dbbd19b5ac3c# only includes Command and refers only to the main switchboard. Bad luck if you want to talk to anybody else.

On the issue of a helpful directory, that is a matter that should be quickly resolved with accurate data with an online public directory.

The provision of mobile phones for members is another initiative strongly supported by the CAA; however, this has spawned a one-way communications system limiting effectiveness.  Caller ID numbers should not be blocked from Police phones; argued as a security issue, but the member can block any inappropriate caller at any time. Many members of the public will not answer calls with blocked IDs as marketing companies often use this to interact and harass customers.

Unfortunately, this problem was caused by Police operating in a Police bubble not understanding the community they serve.

Another technology, albatross, is demonstrated in most patrolling police vehicles. It is far too common to see the observer not observing but being a passenger, head down assumingly using an electronic device. This makes it look like Police are disinterested, not focused on the community they are supposed to service.

It is also not uncommon to see a parked Police car with both members, head down, engrossed in the issue at hand. We accept there has to be an element of this, but the overuse regularly observed is very concerning. Not only is the engrossed member not performing the observer role, but the Situational Awareness, or lack thereof, puts both members at substantial personal risk.

This behaviour must be curbed, whether their distraction is addressing correspondence, undertaking online training or keeping up to date with friends on social media. The use of headphones may help?

When addressing the Service Delivery issue, little progress will be made at the coal face while less than efficient members can take shortcuts and fail in delivering the police service with impunity, as is currently the case. It is not purely a supervision issue as Supervisors cannot be everywhere; this needs to be addressed culturally. Pressure from colleagues (concerned for their own safety) is the most effective way to solve this issue.

The Service delivery test is to identify if a member of the public experience’s dissatisfaction with the Police service and it be bought to the attention of the organisation in a measurable way.

Until that is achieved, all effort to fix the problem will be futile. A Police complaints or Service Delivery line is essential to identify where the weaknesses are occurring so that remedial action can be taken.

There is a long-held misconception, often trotted out as a quaint old-fashioned rationalisation, that has held policing back for decades. The belief that anybody that complains is ‘anti-police’.

We thought this nonsense was assigned to the Ark a long time ago, but behaviours today suggest the philosophy is alive and well.

A priority must be to establish a mechanism where members who fail can be held to account. Notations on their PDA would work.  It would not take long for the Service to achieve substantial improvements if a member knew that they might have to explain their actions and there are possible consequences for failure.

Good material in evaluating members for promotion or appointments.