WA Police Suspends Local Policing Initiatives To Focus On Faster Intervention

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Police Minister Liza Harvey and Senior Sergeant Ashley Goy championed the local policing initiative

Faced with an increase in crime (16.6% above the previous year) across a range of offences since last winter, Police Commissioner Karl O’Callaghan has indefinitely suspended the local policing initiative (Frontline 2020) to boost police capacity to respond to crime.

During an interview on Radio 6PR on Thursday, the Commissioner conceded his Frontline 20/20 policing model, introduced in December 2014, had led to police spending too much time on crime prevention rather than apprehending repeat offenders.

The president of WA Police Union told Radio 6PR the long-awaited decision to re-allocate more officers to front-line services was welcomed.

“We’ve been telling WA police and government for over a year that response teams are under-resourced and over-worked so we’re really pleased that something’s finally been done,” he said.

 “When our members are telling us that they’re fatigued, frustrated and a breaking point, there’s something seriously wrong.”

Effective Monday, the Local Policing Teams will find themselves back under central control. The initiative is to be put on hold, “for the foreseeable future”, according to the Commissioner. However, all the hard work of building relationships with communities will continue to pay off.

Beginnings

Frontline 2020 was a response to a fast growing population in the largest policing jurisdiction in the world. The Triple 0 and dispatch services struggled as the numbers of calls to Police increased dramatically over the past decade.

Commissioner’s idea for the Frontline 2020 was to help prevent crime on a local level: by gathering intelligence on local crime issues, building relationships with the community, and targeting crime hotspots and dangerous individuals.

The initiative, with full support of Police Minister Liza Harvey, was designed with four key reform principles:

  • Improving the ability to closely direct police effort where it is most needed and where it will have the greatest effect.
  • Reducing demand for services through problem-solving, collaboration, proactive policing, diversion and prevention.
  • Priority of locally focussed policing – more closely connected, engaged and accessible with local communities, with an emphasis on problem-solving and striving to do things that will make a positive difference in the community.
  • Optimising resources, increasing effectiveness, efficiency and productivity

Response teams were to deal with the most serious incidents, and local teams handle problems like hoons, drug use, and antisocial behaviour.

Initially trialled in the South East Metro district in 2013, it was declared a success and expanded to other districts.

Crime Figures

However, the model didn’t appear to work elsewhere and while the initiative was successful in building community confidence, WA Police so far haven’t made enough progress in reducing the higher level of crime across the metro area.

Compared to last year, both the rate of offences against person (e.g. assault) and rate of offences against property have increased. Response times to priority incidents also increased, with 69.5% of priority 1 and 2 responded to within 12 minutes. Increasing traffic volume and congestion will continue to make response improvements very challenging. 

Sergeant Goy is a leading advocate of the local policing approach, and believes strongly in its potential to reduce crime.

“I think the success is measured in how much confidence the community have in their local police,” he said. In fact, he was instrumental in embracing social media and building lasting relationships that frequently led to finding lost property and missing persons, and apprehension of wanted individuals, 

Western Australia Police now leads the nation in the number of active Twitter and Facebook accounts frequently interacting with a large and loyal following.

Police Commissioner noted: “If you look at what things looked like in August last year, we were 20 per cent above the previous year. The figures, which are not yet out for January but will be out next week, we are at 16.6.”

 

Legislation Part of the Problem and Solution

Frontline 2020 did not exist in a vacuum. Other factors have to be taken into account to judge the overall increase (or reduction) of crime in WA. 

There is an ongoing debate over the state’s mandatory sentencing laws which have a potential to reduce the crime rates. Lock-out laws, preventing licenced premises from serving alcohol after proscribed hours, are also being debated.

Currently, mandatory sentencing applies for repeat adult and juvenile offenders convicted of residential burglary, grievous bodily harm or serious assault to a police officer.

In September, mandatory sentencing was extended to sexual or physical assaults perpetrated during a burglary, and a three-strikes provision for prolific offenders was tightened.

WA Attorney-General Michael Mischin said mandatory minimum sentences would ensure penalties imposed by the courts more closely met public expectations.

While other states are mulling stringent lock-out laws, last November saw the extension of alcohol drinking hours in Perth.

Australian Drug Foundation chief executive officer John Rogerson commented that “It flies against what is happening right around Australia (with alcohol related issues) and it goes against what the NSW government is doing and what the Queensland government is doing.”

Going Forward

Mr O’Callaghan said the overhaul to the model would result in more front-line officers focusing on catching repeat offenders who continued to commit thefts and burglaries, often while on bail for other offences.

“You can’t do [crime prevention] at the expense of an immediate crisis so you have to move your troops to be able to respond to those sorts of things.”

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