Hoopla on regional PSOs sidelines real issues

Yesterday’s announcement of PSOs for Bendigo ignores the fact that many police and many in the legal and community sectors hold serious reservations about the suitability and efficacy of PSOs, especially in relation to their potential impact on the most vulnerable in our community.

We agree that members of the public have every right to feel safe when travelling on public transport. We just don’t think that PSOs are the way to go. This money could be better spent on proven crime prevention strategies, for example keeping at-risk kids in school.

Liberty Victoria, the Law Institute of Victoria, the Federation of Community Legal Centres, Youthlaw, Jesuit Social Services, the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service, the Youth Affairs Council of Victoria and the Mental Health Legal Centre have all expressed concerns about PSOs.

Members of these organisations are particularly concerned about the potential impact on the rights and safety of some of the most vulnerable members of our community: young people, Indigenous people and those with a mental illness. In particular, they question PSOs’ ability to defuse confrontational situations and the suitability of their being armed.

It’s hard not to be sceptical about the government’s tough on crime approach and their “investment” in public transport safety when we (and they) know that for women at least the most dangerous place is not on the 22.15 Southern Cross to Bendigo, but in the home.

Liberty Victoria president Spencer Zifcak: “My concern is that with only three weeks’ firearms training, you might get a situation where these officers panic and someone gets shot. Public safety has to be the priority and properly trained police officers are the best option.”

Tiffany Overall, Co-Director of Youthlaw: “The reality is that these approaches lead to more young people’s rights being breached and more young people being locked up. This will not create the law-abiding citizens we want in our communities. We want to encourage Victorian political parties to develop policies and practices affecting children and young people that are in line with what we know works. Rather than being driven by the media and waves of popular community opinion, it is time for government to get smart about youth justice and listen to the experts and young people themselves.”

Caroline Counsel, former President, Law Institute of Victoria: “The knowledge that PSOs are armed yet ill-equipped in terms of training and experience will only serve to make travel by public transport after 6pm a more anxious experience for all Victorians. We want to defuse the situation, not make it worse.”

Debate about transport safety must be based on evidence, not fear. The Auditor-General’s 2009 report on Personal Safety and Security on the Metropolitan Train System shared this view. Crime statistics from that year released under FOI revealed that 116 stations were assault free. And the latest Victoria Police Crime Statistics show that reported crime on public transport has decreased by 4.9% from 2009-2011.

Even the Victorian Police Association, which represents PSOs, has its doubts about the indiscriminate allocation of PSOs across the public transport network. Secretary Greg Davies: ”Public safety has to be the priority, not just putting bodies on every station to keep an election promise. Some stations won’t have recorded an offence in the past decade and yet we’re looking at spending about $150,000 in wages and equipment to patrol them every night.”

It’s important to note that members of the public have rights in relation to privacy, arrest, apprehension, search and seizure, move on powers and complaints about the conduct of PSOs.

Rights on Track (a joint project of the Federation of Community Legal Centres, YouthLaw and the Mental Health Legal Centre) informs public transport users of their rights when dealing with PSOs. Check out their fact sheet for information on your rights when dealing with PSOs or share your experiences about PSOs on their Facebook page.

Peter Noble
Loddon Campaspe CLC

Image: boobook48

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One Response to Hoopla on regional PSOs sidelines real issues

  1. Chris Atmore July 12, 2012 at 5:27 pm #

    Well expressed, Peter. It is particularly frustrating that so much money is being spent on PSOs while at the same time, the Victorian Systemic Review of Family Violence Deaths, which works to try to understand how women and children came to die in particular family violence situations so that we can better prevent future such deaths, is not getting the $250 000 per year it needs to continue its work. The Review has not been funded since July 2010 and the Coroners Court has been keeping it going out of general funds, but this is not sustainable in the long term. 12 community organisations, all members of the Review’s Reference Group, wrote to the State Attorney-General about this matter in February, but we have not yet received a response. We know money is tight, but this is a drop in the bucket that is being spent on PSOs.

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