31 January 2023

A thinning blue line is crumbling, warns Chief Police Officer

| Ian Bushnell
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Chief Police Officer Deputy Commissioner Neil Gaughan

Chief Police Officer Deputy Commissioner Neil Gaughan: “We’ve actually gone backwards. We need to do something about that.” Photo: Ian Bushnell.

The ACT’s top police officer says the Territory is at a tipping point when it comes to the number of police required to maintain safety and order.

Chief Police Officer Deputy Commissioner Neil Gaughan was responding to the latest Report on Government Services showing the ACT had the lowest number of sworn officers per 100,000 people in the nation and that the Territory also spent the least per capita on police services.

It’s not the first time Deputy Commissioner Gaughan has questioned the resources at his disposal, but the ROGS figures add urgency to the issue.

He said 205 sworn police officers per 100,000 was well below the national average of 280.

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While the ACT might not need that many more officers, the figures show that police numbers had clearly not kept pace with the Territory’s growing population.

“We’re not meeting our priority one and priority two targets. We haven’t been beating them for a number of financial years,” he said.

“In the last 10 years, the population of the ACT has grown 19 per cent. Police numbers in raw data have gone down by 0.7 per cent. So we’ve actually gone backwards with small numbers. We need to do something about that.”

Deputy Commissioner Gaughan warned that Canberra was no longer a Sleepy Hollow and was experiencing crime in all areas, including across the border in Queanbeyan where there were now 60,000 people.

“That area is growing as quick as we are, about 20 per cent per annum. Queanbeyan has a brand new police station. We don’t,” he said.

He said falling crime rates were not the whole picture, outlining a more complex policing environment with more suicides, domestic violence and mental health issues that were taking a toll on his officers.

“They’re not taking as much sleep as they should, they’re doing more overtime than they should, and there’s more unexplained absences,” Deputy Commissioner Gaughan said.

“So what I’ve now also got is a workforce that is clearly suffering.”

police officer on patrol in Braddon

Police on the beat in Braddon in December as part of Operation Midnight. Photo: Claire Fenwicke.

Deputy Commissioner Gaughan also wants to see more money spent on equipment and facilities, including computers in every police car.

“The city police station was built in 1966. It’s almost as old as me,” he said.

There needed to be a conversation about what level of service the Canberra community wants from its police force, he said.

“What the Canberra community tell me regularly is that police do a great job when they get there, but they don’t see enough police in the new areas like the Molonglo Valley, which are growing rapidly,” Deputy Commissioner Neil Gaughan said.

He had a compelling business case to put to the ACT Government, bolstered by a new report from PWC that should go to the AFP Commissioner tomorrow but would not reveal just how many officers he has in mind, although not as many as the 350 the AFP Association has called for.

The ACT Government purchases police services from the AFP.

Police Minister Mick Gentleman said the ROGS data also showed that Canberrans had some of the highest perceptions of safety at home and in public places.

“The ACT has low crime rates compared to other jurisdictions, with an 11 per cent decrease in the number of offences reported to police in the last decade,” Mr Gentleman said.

He said the government had already significantly boosted funding as part of a phased transformation of ACT Policing that will enable more police on the street and boost police numbers.

“The workforce continues to grow and welcome new members with 42 recruits joining in the last year,” he said.

“Record investment through phase one [of the reforms] has delivered an additional 60 staff and has enabled more police to be on the streets.”

Mr Gentleman said the ACT was a unique jurisdiction where resources could be more easily moved around, but the government would continue to review resourcing ACT Policing as the Territory grew.

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Opposition police spokesperson Jeremy Hanson called for a full review of the crime and justice system in the ACT to give the police the resources they needed to keep the community safe.

“After a year of tragic incidents and desperate calls from the police for more support, the latest statistics show deliberate government defunding that is the root cause of many of the problems,” Mr Hanson said.

“Last year, the ACT was the only jurisdiction in Australia to record a negative average annual growth rate in real recurrent expenditure from 2016-17 to 2020-21. There are fewer sworn officers in the ACT now than 10 years ago, despite having a substantial increase in population.”

Everybody was calling for more police in the ACT except the ACT Government, he said.

Mr Hanson also repeated criticism of the courts, particularly conviction rates and bail decisions.

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You signed a contract, remember? You clearly made a mistake going off what you are saying. Take up a contract variation, and perhaps think more before you agree to terms in a contract that you sign.

In December 2022 I attended my granddaughters graduation at the NSWPOL Academy Goulburn. One hundred and fifty one recruits were sworn as Constables. In October 2022 one hundred and ninety seven were sworn in. Many had been sent to country areas to backfill vacancies. Fortunately my granddaughter was lucky to be posted to such a country station. Cannot understand why the AFP cannot recruit more personnel.

On base pay, the AFP is the worst paid police service in Australia.

The AFP recruitment process is incredibly long, years in the process.

Also, ACT Policing can’t directly recruit, they need permission from the AFP, and if money is tight in the AFP, which it always is, then recruitment is one of the first to go.

Due to poor pay, safety, traumatic experiences in the job, poor Worklife balance etc, policing isn’t a job for life anymore, it’s just becoming a one job within your career.

Last few times l have called the non urgent Police # to pass on information required, l have had to wait >40mins. Not exactly encouraging people to help police.

As a community we need to support our essential services. This statistic is unacceptable and if we don’t change the tired old government we can only blame ourselves the next time someone’s loved one is hurt because there aren’t enough police for the growing city that is no longer a country town.

ChrisinTurner4:04 pm 01 Feb 23

When I reported road-racing on Cooyong Street in Civic the police said they didn’t have the resources to attend. They also said the don’t have the resources to repair rammed police cars. (But there are $billions available to replace buses with much slower trams).

We need a well resourced Police force, where staff are not burnt out. The claim that Canberra is somehow special is nonsense. Would like to see the numbers of officers who are on leave due to PTSD and other work related issues. The ACT Government needs to up the resources of our front line officers. Stop the spin.

Police presence exists only in little white vans on the side of the road (oh wait, they’re subcontracted) … it doesn’t exist there either.
ACT Gov’s approach to crime is not preventative, but after the fact (preferably with a revenue stream or fine attached).
We generally don’t call the police anymore – they never have resources available in a timely manner, so we just waste their time, and ours for nothing. For example, we had a road-rage related fight take place in our street (with weapons – not guns thankfully) the other day, called 000, no police ever showed up in over 10 minutes (couldn’t even hear a siren in the distance). We called them after it was all over and told them it had de-escalated, but that’s not the point. Sure, they were doing other things – no question – but there simply aren’t enough of them, and that’s not their fault.
Canberra is not a country town anymore.
We all know that the funding for everything – health, education, police, etc – is all being channelled into the little red engine – Can-Barr’s own Steele Red Rat-tler.

Gregg Heldon9:19 am 01 Feb 23

42 may have joined last year Mick Gentlemen but how many resigned? How many retired? How many were medically retired? 42 may have joined but what is the real net figure?
It’s a very simple equation. The Police need more bums on seats. More feet on the beat and less anti police and Policing rhetoric from you.

The ACT Police website claims that Canberra is the safest capital city in Australia. The website also informs us that the police remain equipped, alert and ready to respond to threats of violence. But you won’t hear that from Deputy Commissioner Neil Gaughan, the police union or our conservative, intolerant and tough on law Canberra Liberals. Maybe these whingers could get out and about a bit. Particularly in Ainslie, Braddon and Reid to see the amount of police cars, bikes and vans that roam the streets all day every day, patrolling the public housing estates which home all of our citizens who are neglected by society and live in constant poverty. Not all of these police have bad intentions as I have discovered. However there are many who have a certain knack of targeting certain people and those residents of a specific heritage. This was particularly noticeable at the height of the Pandemic.

Finagen_Freeman10:39 pm 31 Jan 23

Politician spin vs ROGS data and the Deputy Commissioner?
Policy spin vs public concerns.
Stop the spin and invest the spend.

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