Victorian commuters are getting off trains at night without Protective Services Officers (PSOs) on duty at some stations, despite government assurances that this wouldn’t happen.
PSOs were absent from 38 out of 211 metropolitan train stations for at least one night during a single week.
Documents released to The Newsroom under Freedom of Information laws found 52 shifts, from June 27 to July 3 this year, weren’t covered due to officers taking “unplanned leave”, including carers and sick leave. Data collected excluded five stations closed for rail works.
Three months ago, the Victorian government “welcomed the completion of the PSO rollout” and said PSOs would be at 211 metro train stations from 6pm to the last train “every night”.
Stations without PSOs included Cardinia Road, Darebin, Lalor, Mordialloc, Tecoma, Victoria Park, West Richmond and Williamstown.
Hallam train station, 40 kilometres south-east of Melbourne, didn’t have PSOs for three out of seven nights. Offences in the town totalled 1136 in the 12 months up until June 30, 2016, according to data from the Crime Statistics Agency.
Public Transport Users Association spokesman Daniel Bowen told The Newsroom, passengers have said they feel safer having officers at train stations.
“Given the high-profile rollout of PSOs onto every station, it is surprising that on some nights, so many stations don’t have officers present – especially during a period when numerous stations were closed for rail works.
“If unplanned leave results in staff shortages, we would hope that PSOs staffing is prioritised at stations that have no other regular Metro staff presence, as well as those where crime is a concern,” Mr Bowen told The Newsroom.
Only eight out of the 38 train stations where officers didn’t attend are staffed by Metro from first train to last, according to Public Transport Victoria’s map of Melbourne’s train network.
Five stations on the night network, a trial of all-night public transport on weekends, didn’t have officers.
Mr Bowen said about half of all crime occurs before 6pm, with the annual cost of having PSOs at each metropolitan train station estimated at $80 million.
“It may be better to target some officers at the hotspot stations where crime is a real problem, not just at night but from first to last service – and have others patrolling around the network, not just stations but also onboard the trains,” he said.
A spokesperson for Victoria’s Minister for Police, Lisa Neville told The Newsroom stationing of officers would be an issue for Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton.
“Deployment of our PSOs is a matter for the Chief Commissioner – but we have promised to give him the resources and powers he needs to fight crime and keep the Victorian community safe,” Ms Neville said.
Victoria Police said they manage unplanned leave to the best of their ability.
“If unplanned leave on a particular night impacts rostering, Transit Safety Division undertake a risk assessment to determine which stations available Protective Services Officers (PSOs) should work at,” Victoria Police spokeswoman Sara-Jane Delaney told The Newsroom.
“During this process our number one priority is the safety of the public.”
Out of seven days showing PSOs deployment to metro train stations, Tuesday was the only day when all stations had officers. – Matthew Male
Photo and infographic by Matthew Male