Chief commissioner makes bid to get more police back on the streets

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Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Shane Patton will scale back strategic projects and non-core duties to provide reinforcements for frontline police as stations struggle to cover routine shifts amid a continuing shortfall of officers throughout the state.

Suburban stations are running at up to 40 per cent under their minimum capacity, with some forced to temporarily close due to lack of staff, according to several police sources speaking anonymously to discuss internal operational matters.

Graduating recruits at the Victoria Police Academy chapel.Credit: Craig Abraham

Supervising sergeants are working on front counters and completing divisional van shifts to ensure areas have a mobile patrol, with some stations unable to put vans on the road.

Patton said he had this week told department heads to find sworn police working in office roles who can volunteer for operational shifts. This will include temporary full-time secondments and part-time deployment working a few days per fortnight in frontline roles.

An internal email seen by The Age was sent on Friday asking for backroom police to return to street duties with a plea to officers ranking up to senior sergeant.

A combination of 800 post-COVID resignations and retirements, and more than 700 staff on long-term WorkCover leave has left police with 1500 fewer officers. Daily sick leave compounds the shortages.

Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Shane Patton.Credit: Wayne Taylor

There are more than 17,000 sworn police and PSOs in the state but that is heavily reduced due to leave, training and court duties.

Patton has established a unit to work on long-term sick leave, with 85 per cent concerning mental health largely involving post-traumatic stress disorder. It will navigate a return to duty for those recovering, early-intervention practices to manage work-related stress and options to allow the overworked temporary respite.

Patton wants a more flexible recruiting approach, reduced waiting list time and a return to recruits in their late teens. “If you are 19 and mature enough, then come on in.”

He said all Australian police forces were struggling with numbers and while they were developing more flexible work options. “Ultimately, you can’t drive the divisional van from your lounge room”.

Police need to find more than 2000 recruits to cover the shortfall of officers, which includes sick leave, resignations and a further 502 officers to meet government targets.

Patton said they were contacting up to 40,000 people who had inquired or shown interest online in becoming police officers to invite them to apply.

Police Association secretary Wayne Gatt said governments, both state and federal, had to develop “competitive edge” packages to allow police to compete for staff.

“Early retirement, gap years, 10-year bonuses, tax relief and picking up relevant tertiary education fees are some of the areas that should be examined,” he said.

“The numbers we have currently are terrible. We are simply running out of police and the members on the front line are just being flogged.”

In a wide-ranging interview, Patton said he wanted a second term as chief commissioner and would introduce a streamlined discipline system making it easier for the disadvantaged to lodge complaints, which would help police who made mistakes while also identifying those who should be sacked.

He also said he was confident the government would agree to some requested law reforms to give police a greater capacity to tackle serious organised crime. These include banning bikie gang members from wearing colours and reinforcing criminal association laws.

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