On 8 December, ACT Police announced the arrest of a second suspect relating to the home invasion and murder of my grandmother, Irma Palasics, and the violent bashing of my grandfather, Gregor.
Living for so long with murderers at large and the insecurity of the unknown has taken a large toll on our lives. This news brings relief and the hope of closure after 24 years of waiting for answers.
As a result, I’ve been trying to understand the ACT Policing model and why funding, especially for unsolved crimes, is far from a priority.
I reached out to organisations including the Australian Federal Police Association (AFPA). What I heard not only shocked me but made me realise that the safety of every Canberran is of serious concern.
Everyone agrees police do a phenomenal job with limited resources. However, we can’t expect them to be superheroes forever: they can’t work around the clock doing back-to-back shifts. The future of our city’s policing really needs a significant rethink and proper allocation of resources.
The current arrangement with the AFP provides ratepayers more value than we realise. We access behind-the-scenes services such as DNA testing, unsolved homicides, cyber policing, explosives experts, and more. Our own force would be unable to match the wide-ranging capabilities provided by the AFP through the Commonwealth.
The next time the ACT Government-AFP contract is up for renewal, it might be better to focus on activities and outcomes. These indicators could, in part, be based on high visibility policing like random breath tests (rarely seen in Canberra these days) through to area patrols.
We could prioritise crime prevention and community policing. By having key performance indicators prioritising safety and community values, we can ensure this contract works for us.
According to the 2022 Productivity Commission’s Report on Government Services, the ACT Government spent $452.67 per person on policing. The national average was $574.57. Based on 456,000 residents as of June 2022, for the ACT to have just the national average, we need an additional $56 million in police funding.
Earlier this year, the ACT Government announced 120 new officers over five years. This is a start, but not enough.
More must be done to retain our current police so that we can build the workforce, not just replace them. Too many officers leave ACT Policing for interstate or the Commonwealth. We’ll struggle with recruitment after the NSW Government recently announced generous incentives.
According to the AFPA, an additional 250 officers are needed. With stretched community and health services, police are being called on as social workers and bogged down with paperwork.
Police numbers are just the tip of the iceberg. The infamous city watchhouse is far from fit for purpose. It’s rife with leaks and broken toilets, meaning officers need to play cell chess with detainees to find a safe environment for them.
I’m advised it’s not uncommon on a Friday or Saturday night for only one sergeant and three other staff to look after 100 detainees. How can this be safe?
And with minimal staff, offenders are not always fingerprinted, and if charged, their DNA or biometrics are often not taken.
This begs the question: how many suspects in unsolved crimes are slipping through the cracks because the DNA isn’t being gathered?
The state of the Gungahlin Police Station is a disgrace. Gungahlin recently lost officers due to a reallocation across the rest of the ACT. Officers get changed in a demountable and a new station is years away. Staff numbers are well below the national level, with just one police car on call for the whole of Gungahlin.
Late night hooning and drag racing are becoming bigger problems, and Canberra has the highest rate of shoplifting in the country. Supermarkets don’t call the police because they know no one will come. The deficiencies go on and on.
How did we get here? How has the state of policing and policing infrastructure been allowed to slip so far? Why hasn’t policing been prioritised in the ACT? The ACT Government must be held accountable.
Underinvestment in police leads to increased crime rates, erosion of public trust and confidence, an increase in organised crime and gang activity, an impact on economic development and investment, social unrest and distrust, and an impact on vulnerable members of the community.
We need a police force to give us comfort, confidence and freedom to make the most of our wonderful city. We need a police force that protects us and makes Canberra an inviting and safe place. We need to properly resource the police so they are there when we need them. And, as a community, we need to demand a safer future for Canberra.