The Victorian Government is fast-tracking the recruitment of more than 400 police officers in a $26 million effort to tackle the state’s rising crime rate.
The powerful police union has called for an extra 3,300 police by 2020, warning officers are being forced to play “Russian roulette” with people’s lives because of chronic staffing shortages.
Police Minister Lisa Neville said the 406 new police promised in this year’s budget would be sworn in by June next year, 12 months earlier than planned.
“This decision to bring forward recruitment of 406 additional officers will see the Victoria Police Academy running at capacity.
“We will continue to give the chief commissioner the resources and the powers he needs to fight crime and keep Victorians safe.”
The first of the new recruits will hit the beat early next year.
Officers at breaking point: police union
A Police Association of Victoria survey of 329 senior sergeants has found more than a quarter regularly put priority 1 jobs on hold for an hour or more and most struggle to get vans on the road.
Priority one calls involve crimes such as aggravated burglary, armed robbery, car-jacking and family violence.
The association’s secretary Ron Iddles said the results showed the force was in crisis and officers were at breaking point.
“Somewhere along the line there will be a serious injury or even a death,” he said.
Mr Iddles said a coronial inquest would be held into the death of a girl who was threatening self-harm, where a priority one call was put on hold and police took more than an hour to arrive.
Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton conceded frontline police were stretched in outer-suburban growth areas such as Casey, Wyndham and Whittlesea.
But he said the survey’s findings contradicted data from the Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority (ESTA) which handles triple-0 calls.
Mr Ashton said only one per cent of 139,000 priority one calls in the last year resulted in a delayed response.
“A job like an armed robbery, a bank hold-up or a home invasion — we get people there ASAP and always have and always will,” he told 774 ABC Melbourne.
Officers constantly juggling high priority jobs
The police union said a call dispatched by ESTA did not mean officers would immediately turn up.
Mr Iddles said the union wanted to avoid a political bidding war over police numbers, with work on a staff allocation model nearly complete.
The senior sergeants’ survey found supervisors were constantly juggling high priority jobs.
“For example, family violence over a hot aggravated burglary over a dangerous driver over an armed hold-up alarm,” an officer said.
“Last night my staff had a choice between a five-car prang, person injured/trapped, a lost 12-year-old girl and a shoplifter,” another said.
In one area, officers said calls to family violence cases were routinely put on hold, which meant injured women and children had to be looked after by overworked station reception staff.
They also described a grieving family waiting more than five hours with a dead relative because of a lack of police resources.
The latest Crime Statistics Agency figures show Victoria’s crime rate was up 13.4 per cent last year, with 535,826 offences committed in the 12 months to June.