Dozens of police stations to close at night as staffing shortage bites
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Dozens of police stations in Victoria will be closed to the public overnight to focus on frontline duties and patrols, and cope with a staffing shortage the force insists will not risk community safety.
Twenty-three stations have been earmarked to reduce their reception hours from the end of November, Victoria Police said, with a further 20 to follow in coming months. The reduced reception hours would generally occur at night when the stations are rarely attended.
The Police Association says stations are a place of last refuge and should not be closed to the public. Credit: Eddie Jim
Victoria Police described the measure as temporary, but did not provide an end date for reduced service, which is expected to continue well into next year or until staffing shortages ease.
“Even when reception counters are unstaffed, police continue to patrol the local community and often still work within the station,” Deputy Commissioner Regional Operations Neil Paterson said in a statement.
The force’s annual report, published this week, revealed the number of active serving police had reduced by 317 in the year to almost 16,000.
That is still about 3000 more officers than a decade ago, after the state’s tough-on-crime approach to law and order, and about 1500 more officers than in 2017-2018 financial year.
Police Association Victoria secretary Wayne Gatt says overworked police officers are working nine-hour days.Credit: Wayne Taylor
Attrition exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic has left about 800 vacancies across the force, but the police statement said the academy was at capacity for the foreseeable future with 48 new constables graduating each fortnight.
Police Association Victoria secretary Wayne Gatt said he was informed last week that the force was looking at reducing reception hours at some stations and expressed concern it could become the norm.
“Police stations are a place of refuge. It’s a place where people go in their darkest times,” Gatt said. “We expressed in the most resolute terms … we told Victoria Police it shouldn’t do this.”
He said he was particularly concerned for far-flung communities, with most but not all affected stations located within 10 kilometres of another that still has 24-hour reception.
Victoria Police said front desks closed throughout the pandemic with no adverse impacts, and Paterson said other states were making the same decisions to deal with similar resourcing challenges.
Officers formerly rostered on reception shifts will instead turn to frontline duties.
“Make no mistake – Victoria Police is not closing any police stations,” Paterson said.
“Redirecting officers towards frontline policing duties will increase the likelihood of crime being prevented, offenders being arrested, and the community remaining safe.
“The vast majority of people attending police stations do so during the day, most regularly to have statutory declarations signed or documents certified.”
The Victoria Police enterprise agreement expires at the end of this month, and tense negotiations reached an impasse when Victoria Police rejected a proposal to expand shifts from eight to nine hours.
Gatt said officers were working nine hours anyway and ought to receive a lieu day each fortnight to make up for it.
“We have these reduced hours because there aren’t enough people in police stations. We don’t have enough people in police stations because Victoria Police treats its people so poorly,” Gatt said.
“They work a nine-hour day. They just don’t get paid for it.”
A police spokesman said there was no doubt it was a tough job but that the proposal was not feasible. He said it would cost $1.5 billion over four years or $3.1 billion if it included all areas of Victoria Police.
“Switching to nine-hour shifts would create significant resourcing challenges, particularly for smaller 24-hour police stations, with members requiring an additional day off each fortnight,” the spokesman said.
“Victoria Police is committed to exploring alternative options with the Police Association Victoria.”
Opposition police spokesman Brad Battin said the Labor government needed to explain when full reception services would be returned and invest in police to relieve staffing to ensure community safety.
Signage displayed at affected police stations will redirect the public to the nearest open reception counter.
Non-urgent reports can be made through the police assistance line.
In an emergency, phone triple zero.
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