This report addresses concerns over Protective Services Officers on Victorian public transport exceeding their powers and using excessive force.
Our report reflects the following themes and trends we observed throughout our three year project (‘Your Rights on Track’) which has educated the community about their rights and responsibilities with Protective Services Officers (PSOs) and monitored the deployment of at train stations in Melbourne since 2012. This work has highlighted the need for change in three broad areas.
Prevent PSOs exceeding their powers with demands for personal information
The report details the PSO practice of conducting ‘informal chats’ with people at train stations that lead to demands for personal information and concludes that these ‘chats’ are an unnecessary intru-sion into the privacy of commuters. It recommends that Victoria Police should end this practice because these demands have the potential to quickly escalate into conflict situations where PSOs then use physical force and weapons, as outlined in the case study.
Reduce risks around PSOs using excessive force and ‘over-policing’ with public reporting and over-sight
The risk of PSOs using unnecessary physical force and inappropriately using weapons such as capsi-cum spray and batons remains because there is no independent monitoring and public reporting of how often PSOs use force compared to police and whether there are any concerning trends in the use of force by PSOs at particular train stations. Similarly, the potential for PSOs to engage in over-policing and excessive fining against of people with known vulnerabilities remains without public reporting and independent monitoring. To improve publc accountability, the report recommends better public report-ing and independent monitoring on these issues.
The report also recommends that PSOs should not be issued with semi-automatic guns because the risk of avoidable shootings by PSOs is higher than that of police given their comparatively shorter length of training, ‘on the job experience’ and supervision. The risk is compounded by the fact that PSOs are placed by themselves at the coalface of public interaction - the train system at night.
Introduce an evidence based approach to policing and train station safety
The report finds that there is a lack of evidence and evaluation to support PSO deployment to every train station which justifies a reconsideration of the PSO policy when the Auditor-General’s current evaluation into the effectiveness of the policy in reducing crime on train stations is complete. It rec-ommends evidence-based policing, calling on the State Government to provide Victoria Police with greater flexibility on where and when to deploy PSOs so that PSOs can be targeted towards those train stations with the greatest crime problems.