Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) — My question is to the Minister for Corrections representing the Minister for Police. The Minister for Police on Tuesday announced new powers for protective services officers (PSOs), including powers to arrest a person who has breached their parole and powers to conduct searches for illicit drugs. The Law Institute of Victoria has stated:
We believe PSOs would need additional training and higher skills to enable them to have the power to arrest a person who has breached their parole, conduct searches for illicit drugs …Noting that PSOs only really receive 12 weeks training, can the minister detail what additional training, if any, will be provided to PSOs on the exercise of these new police-like powers?
MsPATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) — Thank you, Minister. I look forward to that response. Since their introduction PSOs have been criticised for a number of violent arrests involving accused fare evaders and for other pretty inappropriate behaviour. Will the minister tell me what she is doing to ensure that the safety of the public and the PSOs themselves is not compromised by similarly poor exercise of their new powers.
MINISTER’S RESPONSE TO SUBSTANTIVE QUESTION:
Protective Services Officers (PSOs) will receive the same training as police in respect of their new powers.
PSOs are a type of ‘sworn’ Victoria Police personnel. PSOs are highly trained and undertake a 12-week training course at the Police Academy, which gives them the same training as police officers in respect of their community protection functions.
This includes Operational Safety and Tactics Training, which equips police and PSOs to use their firearms and other equipment safely and appropriately. Police and PSOs are required to ‘re-qualify’ in this area every six months.
PSOs receive training on dealing with vulnerable persons and children, including mandatory training in discretionary decision making and professional and respectful behaviours, and are taught communication strategies to deal with people in an agitated state. In addition to their training at the Police Academy, new PSOs carry out their duties under intensive ‘on the job’ supervision from police officers and experienced PSOs for three months immediately after graduating from training. PSOs are actively supervised and report to a police supervisor when on duty. They also receive routine briefings at the beginning of each shift as part of their ongoing training and development.
Like police officers, PSOs assess and reassess the risk of any given situation and determine which option is most appropriate to manage any risk. PSOs take into account human rights considerations when making these decisions and are trained to de-escalate situations and use the minimum amount of force that the situation requires.
PSOs already receive the same training as police officers in respect of their existing search powers.
PSOs are being given power to search for drugs and also psychoactive substances (which police officers are being empowered to search for under Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Miscellaneous Amendment Bill 2017, which is currently in the Legislative Council). This new search power complements PSOs’ existing search powers (relating to graffiti implements, volatile substances and weapons), and most notably the weapons search power which also requires PSOs to form a ‘reasonable suspicion’ before conducting a search. PSOs already discover illegal drugs during such searches.
If a person is found to possess illegal drugs during a drug search, a PSO will be able to arrest the person and seize the drugs. The PSO must hand the seized property to a police officer as soon as practicable after they arrive. The police officer will then undertake subsequent enquiries, investigate and determine the appropriate option. For example, whether to charge the person or whether diversion may be appropriate (in a case of low level criminal offending by an eligible offender with minimal or no offending history).
Harm minimisation is an important factor when a police officer makes a decision about the option to be pursued.
In relation to the new power for PSOs to arrest a person for breach or cancellation of parole, PSOs already have various police powers to arrest, apprehend or detain a person. PSOs also already receive training in relation to parole breaches. Additional training for PSOs will build on this training and will be the same as police officers’ training.
Training on the new PSO powers will be incorporated into the existing PSO training course at the Police Academy and will be reiterated during on the job training and routine briefings.
RESPONSE TO SUPPLEMENTARY QUESTION:
Victoria Police has developed and implemented several new training programs in response to IBAC’s December 2016 report on PSO corruption and misconduct risks. This includes mandatory training in discretionary decision making and professional and respectful behaviours. A new incident and debrief review system has also been established for significant incidents involving transit PSOs, to help inform PSOs’ training.
PSOs are held to the same degree of accountability in relation to their decisions to use force or to arrest or search a person. In addition, PSOs carry out their functions while under surveillance of closed-circuit television, which is in place at train stations and in PSO pods.
Victoria Police expects the highest standards from its PSOs and actively enforces requirements relating to their behaviour in the Victoria Police Code of Conduct. PSOs are expected to undertake their duties in accordance with the law and with a high degree of professionalism and courtesy. Internal discipline of PSOs is dealt with by the Victoria Police Act 2013, which provides a process for investigating alleged misconduct and other inappropriate behaviour.