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From the President: Bad idea must be reviewed

Cite as: November 2011 85(11) LIJ, p.4

The plan to arm PSOs is fraught with danger

On 11 December 2008, Melbourne teenager Tyler Cassidy was shot dead during a confrontation at a Northcote skate park. Within 73 seconds of police approaching, the knife-wielding 15-year-old was shot six times by trained officers. There were warning shots. There were shots to his lower body. Then there were fatal shots to his chest.

This tragedy must give us pause on the question of protective service officers (PSOs). At the very least, the LIV would like to see the introduction of armed PSOs at railway stations around Victoria stalled until the findings of the inquest on Tyler Cassidy are known.

Issues to be dealt with in the inquest include the police approach to Tyler, their actions, procedures and training.

These issues go to the heart of the legal community’s great concern over PSOs, which the Baillieu government will begin deploying at inner-city stations in February 2012.

In Melbourne this year there have been three police shootings. The question that must be asked is this: if trained and experienced police officers shoot a boy dead, what can we expect from PSOs with a fraction of the training and experience in similar highly charged situations?

The potential risks associated with the discharge of a lethal weapon by a PSO at a busy station outweigh any benefits in crime prevention.

The LIV has grave concerns about the government’s proposal to introduce 940 PSOs to railway stations around Victoria by late 2014. In May the LIV wrote to the Minister for Police, Peter Ryan, to express our concern about the plan to put two PSOs on all metropolitan and major regional train stations from 6pm until the last train.

Before this year’s amendments to the Police Regulation Amendment Act, the job of PSOs was, essentially, to protect public officials and places of importance such as the Shrine of Remembrance. That role has been extended to include crime prevention.

PSOs can now apprehend, detain, search and arrest people. They can pull people off trains, prevent people driving, move people on and more.

This concerning extension to their job description puts PSOs in direct contact with a broad cross-section of the community, including the mentally ill, those affected by drugs and alcohol and, in particular, youth.

To handle the myriad unique and stressful situations they might face on the train system at night, PSOs will get 12 weeks’ training – increased from the initial eight weeks to “include instruction in the exercise of these powers”. And they will be equipped with lethal weapons.

Victoria Police get 33 weeks’ training, which includes critical incident training, firearms handling and instruction on non-violent resolution of conflict situations.

With their 12 weeks’ training, PSOs – some of whom probably failed to become police – will have to deal with critical incidents involving vulnerable and aggressive members of the public.

The LIV believes PSOs should not be equipped with firearms. If they must be armed, they could be equipped with capsicum spray and be specifically and intensively trained in non-violent conflict resolution.

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.

Why are we considering this potentially dangerous proposal when the evidence is telling us it is not necessary?

In 2008-09 there were around 7000 criminal offences reported on Melbourne’s train system, according to an Auditor General’s report. That’s 33 offences per one million boardings, a very small proportion.

The Public Transport Users Association of Victoria tells us that of all assaults at train stations, 45 per cent occurred at just 10 locations. And half of them occurred during the day. At 116 stations, no assaults were recorded.

The LIV is also opposed to a widening of PSO presence on the ground of cost. We are concerned that the state government has committed to spending $212 million deploying 940 PSOs to our railway platforms by 2014 without evidence that the cost is justified.

There will be a further cost – not calculated in the $212 million – to courts and tribunals. If you are going to have an increase in the number of people policing laws – and remember the government has also committed to 1700 more police officers – then there will be an increased demand on our legal system.

Why not focus on the 10 hot-spots – Flinders Street, Dandenong, Broadmeadows, Footscray, St Albans, Ringwood, Bayswater, Frankston, Southern Cross and Thomastown? Why not staff these problem stations with PSOs from first train to last?

The state government plans to spend $212 million fixing a mythical problem, and in so doing will endanger the lives of the travelling public and ill-equipped PSOs. The LIV opposes the plan.

The LIV wants governments of any political persuasion to implement Justice Impact Statements to assess what the real impact of changes to legislation will be, what choke points will be created by the change and what the financial implications of such changes will be. Good government works transparently and in a way that can be measured and therefore better managed.


Shani Cassidy
The State Coroner hands down her findings at 10am tomorrow 23rd November. We hope they are damming on the Police.
22/11/2011 10:13:47 AM

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