POLITICIANS want to sound tough by promising upgraded or new police stations and hundreds more uniform officers for the front line.Chief Commissioner Ken Lay actually wants to be tough by putting infrastructure and manpower where they are really needed — which isn’t necessarily in marginal seats.
What Mr Lay doesn’t want to be promised by the Government or the Opposition is 700 or 1000 blue shirts, four new police stations and 20 renovated ones.
What he does want is a change in the way the force is funded so he gets the same cash amount it would take to fund those promises, which he can then spend on modern methods to cut the crime rate and protect the community.
That isn’t just cops on the beat and divvy vans. It is also specialist detectives, forensic accountants, lawyers, computer-savvy analysts and CSI types who can get DNA from a drop of sweat.
There is no doubt political parties in the past have spent millions of dollars on police stations in marginal seats to win votes.
If any party tries to do that in the upcoming state election, there is a good chance Mr Lay will go public and point the finger.
Unlike some previous chief commissioners, he isn’t beholden to any party for having made him top cop.
He didn’t want to be Chief Commissioner in the first place, but was persuaded to take the job to act as a stabilising force after years of conflict in the upper echelons of Victoria Police.
Politicians on both sides have greeted Mr Lay’s bold blueprint for the future with simplistic self-interested shouts of “no police stations will close on our watch” and “we promise more uniform officers, not less”.
Surely they don’t really think Mr Lay is silly enough to ignore frontline policing. There is nothing in his Blue Paper that suggests uniform police and divvy vans will not continue to be available to respond to calls for help.
In fact, there is much in it that would free more sworn officers to get out on the beat — and for longer each shift.
Mr Lay knows he will have a battle on his hands to get some of the Blue Paper proposals implemented. Those who oppose them should not underestimate his quiet but firm resolve to leave the force in much better condition than he found it when he became Chief Commissioner in November 2011.
Mr Lay considers his Blue Paper to be the key to opening up dialogue between him, the Government and Opposition, the Police Association and the community.
He sees it as an opportunity to debate the real problems his force faces, rather than simply offering solutions without discussion.
It is highly likely he will have to offer sweeteners to the Police Association in the next round of enterprise bargaining negotiations if he is to get the rostering and other changes he wants to change the way police work and where they work from.
THERE will also be tough discussions between Mr Lay and political leaders if the force funding model he wants — which is to spend money where he thinks it will be most effective — is to come to fruition.
Mr Lay’s Blue Paper is a vision for how he sees Victoria Police in 2025. He will not be Chief Commissioner then, but he fully intends spending the final two years of his five-year contract negotiating hard-to-instigate change — and possibly for longer if he gets another term. Mr Lay believes the radical reforms suggested in his Blue Paper are needed if the force is to turn around from the situation it is in now — which he describes as “struggling to cope with the unprecedented demands upon it”.
Much of the commentary around the Blue Paper has centred on fears that beat police will be cut and stations will be closed.
Mr Lay makes no apologies for the fact he wants his troops centralised in what he calls “supersites” that would replace the current model of multiple, smaller and less operationally effective stations. He argues that will enable his commanders to move officers to where they are most needed when they are most needed. But he rejects that he is moving away from the need to have the high level of visible police the community expects, describing the men and women who patrol Victorian streets and roads as “the backbone of Victoria Police”.
Mr Lay told the Herald Sun on Wednesday it would be disastrous if the status quo remained, with the Blue Paper recommendations being shelved or watered down by a nervous Government and a change-reluctant Police Association.
He warned starkly that would make it impossible to address the complex organised crime and other problems the force was now facing an uphill battle to solve.
“If we continue to just simply invest in blue shirts and police stations, and not take a broader approach around technology and specialists, we will simply not get on top of this level of offending,” Mr Lay said.