Police must work smarter, says Lay

“Chief to cut police on the beat” — an explosive headline in The Age yesterday and one that needs to be properly understood.

Yes, Victoria Police is thinking to the future and how it needs to evolve if it is to keep pace with the changing world.

But let me be absolutely clear: Victoria Police is fundamentally and at every level a community policing organisation. We simply cannot fulfil our mission of keeping Victorians safe without a strong footprint in local communities.

But that is not to say a police force can stand idly by and ignore the many pressing challenges that cannot be confronted by putting all our resources into police stations and uniformed patrols.

Society is changing at an extraordinary pace. This provides new opportunities for crime to prosper and Victoria Police must keep up if it is to successfully confront and pacify those drivers of crime that cause the most harm.

This is not Victoria Police being fanciful. It is my absolute obligation to the community to ensure Victoria Police is thinking to the future and taking the steps necessary to modernise the force.

The blue paper is not a strategy or a plan. It is a guide to what the future of Victoria Police might look like, based on significant research, which will take account how society is changing and pose a number of questions about how Victoria Police must adapt to ensure it continues to provide the most effective service possible.

At its heart is the need for police to modernise. The model that we’ve had for the past 161 years needs to be re-examined. It’s a history of allocating police according to population, not crime rates or emerging crime trends.

It’s also a geographic spread of police station locations based on 19th-century patterns with a day’s horse ride between them.

We need to build greater flexibility into the way we deploy our resources. That is why we are now allocating police numbers at larger geographic “divisional” level so that police commanders have the freedom to move police officers from town to town as needed.

We also need more dedicated, specialist taskforces to help police tackle the greatest drivers of harm. Challenges such as organised crime, family violence and the destructive prevalence of ice in the community will not be solved through traditional policing alone.

We need to work smarter. We need to be responsive. And we need better technology that allows police to work better in the field.

What does more responsive mean? We’ve gone from seven family violence teams across the state in 2011 to 30 teams today.

These teams have been established using police from across the state and without them we wouldn’t have the subject matter experts working with support services to break the cycle of violence.

Similarly, the massive increase in online offending demands a significant escalation in our digital capabilities so we can track and apprehend those who would groom children for sexual abuse, commit fraud on a massive scale or bully, abuse and blackmail victims.

Organised crime is another considerable challenge. Outlaw motorcycle gangs are no respecters of state or national borders. They are well resourced and organised. This demands a sophisticated approach from police, working with their partners nationally and globally to intercept the flow of weapons and drugs.

The future of Victoria Police must be about providing a service, a visible, accessible and mobile police force that is in the community, not stuck behind a desk.