Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 11 Hansard (22 October) . . Page.. 3929 ..
MR PRATT (continuing):
deserved immediate police attention before the trail went cold. For 90 minutes those four residents repeatedly telephoned the police station, but they failed to get through until about 9 am.
I have received many petitions, personal complaints and letters about the inappropriate use of fireworks. One hundred of the cases that were reported to me involved people telephoning the police and requesting them to respond to incidents involving significant damage and/or threatening behaviour. It appears as though the police viewed those incidents as low-level criminal behaviour-incidents to which they simply did not respond. I am not necessarily blaming the police; I am saying that we need to rectify that problem. The community deserves better from its police force. We must work together to try to find solutions to these problems.
I bring to the attention of the house a couple of weaknesses in the ACT policing system. I refer, first, to the number of inexperienced police and to the imbalance in the station team mix. We are faced with a lack of duty of care. Proportionately, there are too many probationary constables and an insufficient number of sergeants and senior constables to lead and supervise them.
I am aware of a well-researched crisis paper that was prepared by a senior sergeant at one of the southern police stations and submitted to his superiors. He warned the organisation that station commanders and team leaders were vulnerable to charges relating to a lack of duty of care to staff. That concern relates mainly to police numbers and to the lack of experience at a police team level. That is what senior police officers are saying.
On 20 October, which was two days ago, Belconnen police station, which had a staff complement of 48, had 27 probationary constables and seven junior constables with one to two years experience, five team leaders and eight experienced constables. I inform members that the staff complement on that day was 20 per cent less than the normal station complement. Taking into account police best practice, that experience mix is significantly out of whack. It seems as though 70 per cent of police in the ACT are junior or probationary constables. It has been identified that police are operating under extreme pressure, which is mainly due to a decreasing level of experience, overcommitment at the force level and individually, and a lack of resourcing.
This week the Liberal opposition announced a new community safety policy with community policing as its cornerstone. It is the intention of the Liberal Party, when in government, to rectify the weaknesses that are creeping into ACT policing. We intend to employ more frontline police with smarter strategies. The former Liberal government introduced community policing. We intend to enhance and to build on that policy. The present Labor government has neglected community policing which has led to a deterioration in the number of frontline police.
The key to combating and deterring crime is prevention and proactive policing. A robust community policing program will ensure that those aims are achieved. Strong interaction with the community, in particular Canberra's youth, who are at risk, would form part and parcel of this preventive strategy. We need well-trained, clever, creative and sympathetic young police to act in that role.