Armed guards at stations

The debate around armed Protective Service Officers on stations is heating up.

The Police Association, the Rail, Tram and Bus Union and the Public Transport Users Association want a high-level meeting to develop the best way of tackling crime and safety problems.

Support for the armed guard plan is evaporating.

There now appears to be no organisation other than the Government that supports the proposal.

Herald Sun: Fears mount on guard plan

Armed guards on stations at night is one of those things that at first glance sounds like a good idea. Stations at night are scary places. Crime probably happens. Guards would make it safe.

But the more you look at it, the more problematic the plan appears to be. Stations at night sometimes look scary, but that’s most often because the lighting can be poor, the building design has nooks and crannies and concealed spaces, and many stations have no staff (at any time of day). It doesn’t mean they’re all a cesspit of crime.

For me the clincher was a PTUA study of assault statistics for the whole of 2009. The key findings were:

  • 45% of reported assaults occur at just ten stations: Flinders St, Dandenong, Broadmeadows, Footscray, St Albans, Ringwood, Bayswater, Frankston, Southern Cross, and Thomastown.
  • About half the assaults occurred before 6pm when the PSOs would be on duty. (186 daytime, 199 at night)
  • For the year there were 385 assaults reported at 85 stations, with 116 stations (eg most of the network) having no reported assaults at all.

Other issues that have come up include whether the officers will have toilet facilities (6pm to 2am is a long shift); where would the guns be stored; would they have jurisdiction in neighbouring areas such as bus interchanges; and would they be able to board a train if there’s trouble occurring?

As John Silvester wrote in a superb the Age on Saturday, the numbers don’t stack up. You’ll have 940 armed officers in a bid to prevent 199 assaults per year, and 232 of those officers at the 116 stations where nothing ever happens would be twiddling their thumbs.

I reckon you’d get a better result in terms of crime prevention by putting them on every CBD corner all night every night.

Instead, what about staffing every station from first to last train (you know, with people who can actually tell you which train you have to catch, help you with the ticket machines, and may deter some incidents, or be able to call for assistance for others), with fulltime police at those hotspots that do have genuine safety problems, and enough resources for regular police to quickly attend where needed?

I reckon that’d probably cost less, and be a better result for train passengers.

I should note that from what I’ve seen around the courts and Parliament, the PSOs do a good job. But that doesn’t mean putting two of them on every single station after 6pm is a good idea.

Update Thursday 13/4/2011: Premier Ted Baillieu has an interesting opinion piece in today’s Herald Sun. The article is well worth a read — he makes some good points about the training and professionalism of PSOs. But he doesn’t address the issues around the planned railway station deployment — that at hotspot stations, much crime occurs before they would be on duty, and that at quiet stations, they would have nothing to do.

By Daniel Bowen

Transport blogger / campaigner and spokesperson for the Public Transport Users Association / professional geek.
Bunurong land, Melbourne, Australia.
Opinions on this blog are all mine.

5 replies on “Armed guards at stations”

After recently hearing about the shooting of a man by Bart transit police (San Francisco’s rapid transit service) who died after being shot in the back whilst he appeared to be laying down there is absolutely no way I would want the risk of something similar happening here. I know we have a big problem but that’s too risky a solution.

P.S. The officer involved in that shooting apparently said he thought it was his taser he was using. Hmmm, I would think you would know the difference between a taser and a gun!

There certainly are problems at some of the stations there is no doubt about that, but a lot of the issue is also perceived safety. I don’t think guards standing around with guns are going to make many people feel much safer. Especially not whilst their on the trains themselves.

Boost the number of police riding the rails, re-staff the rest of the network and give these staff radio contact with police. That would be a much better way to spend tax dollars.

Psos are highly trained professional police officers, however the role of protective services is to guard places of importance and are limited to their jurisdictions. Putting them on stations is a great idea and it will work. Although it’s only 8 weeks training the patrol functions are exactly at the same standard as normal officers, the same for gun and armed tactic training. The government probably don’t need to deploy 940 of them though. Should be just at hot spots and they should be able to travel the trains as part of a rotation to make a presence. The psos do a great job and I don’t see a need for concern. Victoria has become a violent and drug affected state and needs this kind of move.

Hey Daniel,

I have to admit, I often disagree with your views,but credit where credit’s due I have to say I think you’re spot on with this article and would like to congratulate your clear-headed thinking and well-reasoned arguments regarding the PSO’s. it kind of seems a huge waste of money and resources – something Public Transport has seen enough of over the years. More station staff are the key, I believe, not only to public safety, but I’m sure having every station well equipped and staffed would aid in trains running a lot closer to their times than now. Many more transit police and trained staff riding the rails are, of course a necessity – the existing force do what they can, but they’re grossly overworked, and when they turn up 20-30 minutes after an incident has occurred and the call placed, there’s not a whole lot they can do, regrettably.

Sure, I might be biased, as i do work in the industry, but opening up the rail system, making it more passenger-friendly and focused would be a huge step in the right direction. Armed guards ONLY after a certain time and ONLY on platforms just tend to make the environs more threatening for a lot of people, and add an air of hostility that is needless….starting bringing guns to stations and it almost seems inevitable that it’s only a matter of time before tragedy strikes…

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