For a number of years country communities have undergone change at a rate and extent never seen before. Among other things, this had been brought about by the introduction of improved communication and transportation.
These influences have resulted in the assimilation and amalgamation of many services, changing the structure and demographics of these communities. This too has exposed country communities to the ills that come with rapid change, altering forever the way communities are policed and the way a police officers deal with problems encountered by their communities.
The result is that police officers have been required to question and analyse how policing services are delivered and, in some cases, consider whether services are needed at all. Some policing ‘sacred cows’ have been challenged, changed, or discarded. Throughout all this, there has been one constant - the need for police to assist their communities solve problems. In fact, the perception of police as problem solvers has only become greater among these country communities.
Also highlighted by this rapid change has been the ability of communities to solve their own problems, and, as a result, effectively police themselves.
As well, it has become clear that small communities have a sense of balance and structure, which must be maintained so they can operate effectively. The alternative is that they become dysfunctional - increasing the potential for crime and disorder. Other community ills are also exposed when a relatively traditional, conservative and stable community is subjected to rapid change. The results can include people leaving the community, suicide and substance abuse. Such problems are apparent in many country communities.
All this, of course, impacts directly on the way a police officer will police a community. If an officer is able to assist a community in overcoming these problems, the flow-on effect will be a ‘healthier’ community and less demands on the police. Problem-solving is a skill which all community members can employ in solving individual and community problems, as well as equip them with life long skills. These communities have structures and connections, which rely on one another to ensure balance and longevity. As a consequence, a holistic approach to community problem solving is required. This encompasses policing as a component of the community, but not the ‘be all and end all’ of the problem solving equation. What is important is that if police are to be viewed by their community as the primary problem solvers, they must have the skills to fulfil the expectations of their community. This requires country police to be more skilled and professional than ever before.
This report is my contribution to the development of country police services. Its aim is to demonstrate how serving country communities can be a professional and career-enhancing option for all police officers. I hope this report will be a catalyst for other officers, who have served in the country across Australia, to make a positive contribution towards the development and recognition of their craft.