Policing at Australian international airports

13 Mar 2014

The objective of the audit was to assess the Australian Federal Police's (AFP’s) management of policing services at Australian international airports. In order to form a conclusion against this audit objective, the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) examined if:

  • the transition to the 'All In' model of policing at airports (Project Macer) had been delivered effectively;
  • appropriate processes are in place for managing risk and operational planning;
  • effective stakeholder engagement, relationship management and information sharing arrangements are in place;
  • facilities at the airports are adequate and appropriate; and
  • appropriate mechanisms for measuring the effectiveness of policing at airports have been developed and implemented.

Overall conclusion

Australia’s 10 designated airports cater to more than 125 million domestic and international passengers annually. As both transport hubs and major commercial centres, the airports present a complex and evolving law enforcement environment. Through its Aviation function, the AFP is responsible for delivering a full range of counter terrorism and community policing services at these airports. As at November 2013, 618 AFP officers were employed across the airports.

Following the transition from the previous ‘hybrid’ model to the 'All In' model, the AFP is effectively managing the delivery of policing services at Australia’s international airports. The transition process (known as Project Macer) was well managed and met its objectives. As a result of the Project, 274 PSOs and 71 former state/territory police officers successfully became sworn AFP officers. The Project was completed in less than the estimated five years and at a cost of $16 million, significantly less than the anticipated $32 million. The 'All In' model has delivered resource efficiencies resulting in annual savings of the order of $10 million (from $84 million in 2009−10 to $74.1 million in 2012−13).

The organisational arrangements in place at airports are sound, with a clear command structure at each airport headed by an Airport Police Commander. Internal reporting mechanisms are in place and there is a clear alignment between the AFP’s strategic and functional plans and individual airport action plans. However, there is no clear linkage between the AFP’s planning for its Aviation function and external assessments of the threat and risk environments across Australia’s aviation sector. Although the AFP advised that a number of factors have been taken into account in determining the agency’s resourcing levels at individual airports, increases or decreases in staffing levels have been largely historical and based on the funds available to the Aviation function. An explicit assessment of the inherent security risks presented by each airport and the nature and level of criminality have not formed part of that determination. The AFP advised that it is now developing a resourcing model that will take into account all relevant factors in determining staffing levels at each airport. Completion and implementation of such a model would provide the AFP with a more rigorous and transparent approach to resource allocation across airports.

The AFP’s Aviation function maintains a high operational tempo. On average, in each year over the last three financial years, the AFP has dealt with 21 146 incidents and made 2621 apprehensions and 312 arrests across the 10 airports. The number of arrests has increased by 42.6 per cent over the three year period from July 2010 to June 2013. The offences ranged from offensive and disorderly behaviour to matters relating to aviation and aircraft security.

The legislative framework applying at airports is complex, with officers required to use and apply both Commonwealth and state and territory legislation. Across the 10 airports, there are some 300 relevant pieces of state or territory legislation and more than 400 relevant provisions of Commonwealth legislation. Although state and territory police forces provide training in their respective legislation, the duration of this training varies considerably from state to state, and from zero to 10 days. There would be benefit in greater consistency in training both in terms of duration and content following an assessment of the training requirements.

The Aviation function has developed and maintains good relationships with a wide range of stakeholders and the AFP is appropriately represented on a number of local and national government and aviation industry bodies. The effectiveness of these relationships was supported by the responses to annual surveys commissioned by the AFP, as well as the ANAO’s consultations with state and territory police forces and airport operators. However, some airport operators stated that they did not have a clear understanding of the Aviation function’s strategy for policing. The AFP has now agreed that it will disseminate its Aviation Doctrine to provide stakeholders with a clearer understanding of the AFP’s overall aviation policing strategy.

The ANAO has made one recommendation aimed at securing greater consistency, both in terms of content and duration, of the training in state and territory legislation provided to AFP officers by the respective state and territory police forces.

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