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.
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.