Our society is changing and so must police to face fresh challenges
By Deputy Commissioner Andrew Crisp
Preventing crime and disorder is the founding principle on which modern policing is built.
This has remained constant through our 163 year history.
But if we are to keep pace with the rapidly changing world and the crime within it, the ways in which we do prevent crime demand constant re-evaluation and bold thinking.
Keeping Victorians safe in 2016 means having our police visible in the community and ready and able to respond to calls for assistance; it is not best achieved by having police working behind desks in their stations.
I understand that having a police station nearby provides a sense of comfort, but the reality is they do not prevent crime.
It is important our frontline police spend most of their time out and about in the community, in their vehicles and ready to respond.
I need to be clear on this point: police stations are not closing. But where local circumstances permit, police may reduce their counter service hours so that the officers who are freed up can be re-assigned to community patrolling.
Society is changing at a rapid pace. In 1970 there were 20,000 petrol stations across Australia. Today there are approximately 6,000. In the 1980s there were over 6,000 milk bars in Victoria. Today that figure has fallen to less than 1,500, these iconic services replaced by larger supermarkets and franchises operating extended hours in centralised locations.
Whilst we may reminisce on a bygone era, there has been little community objection to the new and improved services.
Policing is no different. We are a different, bigger and broader community. We are living in a global world and dealing with crimes which simply didn’t exist before. We simply cannot keep applying outdated practices and fall behind the expectations of our modern and mobile communities.
Forty years ago there were 364 police stations in Victoria. Today there are 326 . Back then police stations were responsible for car registrations, vehicle and other licensing, paying warrants and other fees.
Today, all of these services are provided by other entities, and yet we have a similar number of police stations, offering the same traditional hours to perform predominantly minor administrative services.
This is not a plea or evidence to close police stations, but to appreciate we need to think differently about the way we deliver our services. While the crimes of 40 years ago are still present, we also face much more complex offending today; organised crime, the threats of terrorism and family violence.
These are not challenges best tackled from behind a police station counter. They demand better in-field intelligence, local and state wide operations, and where necessary taskforce policing.
To meet this challenge we need to be agile and responsive. This is not best achieved by having 326 police stations open at all hours, waiting for crimes to be reported at the front desk.
In country police stations, it is a little different. We recognise that our members perform so much more than their policing roles, and while some states have phased out their one member police stations, we continue to recognise their importance.
They too, however, have had to evolve. These stations used to operate independently 8 hours per day, 5 days per week and if something happened after hours the local police member would be called out from their home to respond.
These stations now operate in larger groups, rostering to provide a 24 hour response to their communities. So, as has always been the case, there may be times when you attend one of these stations and it is unattended, but this does not mean we are not available. If the police member is off-duty, or out in the community and you require police assistance, it is still simply a phone call away.
In some areas of metropolitan Melbourne there are up to eight 24 hour police stations within a 10 km radius. Is this really the best use of our resources? Victoria Police offers a 24 hour response service matching our resources to demand so we will be there when you need us. This is the best and smartest use of our resources.
Simultaneously, we are investing in our IT so that police can have the information they need almost instantly while they are in the field on mobile devices.
Decisions to change counter service hours are not made on a whim; they are only approved when backed up by hard evidence. We know that at some stations, for example, the counter service contact averages 20 minutes per day.
Keeping Victorians safe is our absolute priority. We know this can be best achieved when we strike the right balance between staffing counter services and putting our resources on the road.
It is through proactive operations, putting our resources where they are needed most and responding to calls for assistance that we can best address crime and the broader harm issues that we face.