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Stretching long arms of the law

THERE is a common question on everyone’s lips in Tasmania Police at the moment: “Where is everyone?”

As I drive around the state and speak to members about what they need to make the life of a police officer more bearable in 2018, the answer always relates to more police numbers.

This response comes from police working in all areas, from Recruiting Services to the Coroner’s Office, from 24-hour first response areas in cities to officers working in single officer stations in the country who are affected when they try to take leave and there is no-one who can backfill their position.

These shortfalls in staffing hamper service delivery and compromise our members’ safety and mental health.

They highlight the major issue on which the Police Association of Tasmania will be mounting a serious campaign over the next few years — to have other government agencies do the work for which they are responsible, or to pay the cost of our members performing their work so that more police officers can be recruited.

The Department of Justice has responsibility for prisons and the transport of offenders to and from court. But on the North-West Coast, Tasmania Police continue to routinely use two officers transporting prisoners long distances in the back of a divisional van.

Obviously, this places both the prisoner and our members at levels of unacceptable risk as these vehicles are not designed for long distance transport of persons.

If these persons in custody are medically vulnerable or have mental health problems and have an episode, the outcome could be anything from a medical emergency to a death in police custody. The Police Association is working with Tasmania Police to address this problem.

Justice also has responsibility for monitoring probation and parole. After hours, this again falls to Tasmania Police to conduct these checks along with the large number of offenders on bail who also require checking. At the time of police contact, some of these people on parole advise us they have not been checked at all since release, sometimes up to two years prior to the police check.

In 2018, there should be a better way to do this and the association is looking closely at government proposals to adopt options such as ankle bracelets and electronic monitoring.

State Revenue issues all Liquor and Gaming licences and permits. Police are then required to attend venues and events after hours to monitor the Responsible Service of Alcohol and compliance with Special Permits.

Our members don’t necessarily mind the work to keep pubs and nightclubs as safe as possible, but if this is to continue into the future, we need to fund and resource police accordingly.

Child protection is another area where police feel that their co-operation is abused. Obviously, we are obliged to report concerns relating to children and these are occasionally sent back to us for investigation.

But the increasing instances of police being used to recover and transport children and attend reports of uncontrollable children are in many cases a waste of valuable police resources. These cases should be attended to by the agency tasked with dealing with this social (not public safety or criminal) issue. It is surely better on every level for the children concerned to be dealt with by social workers rather than police officers.

Policing has changed dramatically in the past 20 years. Firearm laws now require that Tasmania Police staff a section dedicated to the handling of firearm licences, permits, seizures and inspections. This alone generates a great deal of work both in the back end and in the community.

Domestic violence laws have also caused a huge spike in policing activity. The community in general doesn’t expect us to continually do more without matching resources, but every day, Tasmania Police does just that, in both operational and non-operational areas. We now have to be aware of and train for counter-terrorism, family violence, firearms, mental health and the ever-increasing serious drug issue of ice (crystal methamphetamine).

It is often said in jest in policing circles that if it wasn’t for domestic violence, mental health, drugs and alcohol, policing would not be a bad job. Regardless of where you work, either as a first responder or in an operational support area, that point of view is a sad reflection of day-to-day policing in 2018.

If it was not for the camaraderie that comes with policing and the support of colleagues, many more of our own would succumb to mental health issues. There is support for our members if they need it, 24/7, sadly the greater community does not have the same support as yet.

Ambulance officers and paramedics attend to medical emergencies, the Tasmania Fire Service attends to fire and rescue emergencies.

But Tasmania Police is the catch-all 24/7 agency which picks up the remaining workload, unfortunately everything from dog catcher to social worker.

Many of these tasks have been carried over from years of custom and practice.

The fact is that society has changed, policing has changed and the demands of contemporary policing mean that we need to consider what are our core roles?

Police are ordinary people doing an extraordinary job. For too long our workload has increased because we are available and community minded, but regrettably our recruitment has not kept pace at the same rate.

The capability review under way will make for interesting reading as the 125 extra police promised over the next fours, while welcome, will still not be enough in the opinion of the Police Association of Tasmania and many of its members.

I reiterate, what frustrates our members are the extra roles we play that are the responsibility of other agencies and take us away from our core roles: policing the communities and roads of Tasmania, and keeping all Tasmanians safe.