●Expanded powers will enable PSO to patrol ‘any large area’, including the Melbourne CBD and adjoining areas plus regional cities
● PSOs empowered to deter ‘antisocial behaviour’
● Concerns about impacts on LGBTI people, pride marches and protests
The Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby has raised concerns about the Victorian Government’s Police and Emergency Legislation Amendment Bill. The Bill will enable trained Sheriff’s officers to serve family violence intervention order applications. The Bill will also expand the powers of Protective Services Officers (PSOs) to patrol ‘any large area’, including the Melbourne CBD and adjoining areas plus certain regional cities, in a bid to deter ‘antisocial behaviour’.
This would expand powers granted to PSOs during the coronavirus pandemic that have seen PSOs patrolling the community and arresting over 400 people, including for offences as innocuous as being drunk in a public place - an offence the Government has committed to abolish due to its disproportionate impact on Aboriginal and other marginalised people.
“We recognise that PSOs may provide a sense of safety for some people travelling on public transport late at night, but there is no evidence that they have had any material impact on crime. Instead, increasing PSO powers will likely result in further targeting and policing of marginalised communities, including LGBTI people, especially LGBTI people of colour, who have been subject to police brutality and misconduct,” said the Lobby Co-Convenor, Nevena Sprirovska.
PSOs have limited training (12 weeks compared to about 33 weeks for police officers) and a history of predatory behaviour, including sexual harassment, documented in IBAC’s report on corruption and misconduct risks in the PSO workforce. “These expanded powers would potentially allow PSOs to patrol beats, pride marches and protests, policing what they deem to be ‘antisocial behaviour’, which is incredibly dangerous for our community,” said Ms Spirovska.
“There must be real justification for increasing the power of PSOs, and we implore the Parliament to refer this Bill to the Legal and Social Issues Committee for review. There is no need to rush this massive expansion of PSO powers without proper consideration of the impact of this increased policing will have on marginalised communities, assessment of the massive cost of the expansion of the police force, real improvements to the police complaints system, and greater investment in social services that support LGBTI communities,” said Ms Spirovska.
The expansion of the powers of Sheriff’s officers to serve family violence intervention order applications is in line with a recommendation from the Royal Commission into Family Violence. “Sheriff’s officers will need specialist training to serve family violence intervention order applications, training that is LGBTI-sensitive.
We welcome the Government’s commitment to provide training and trust that it will be provided in an LGBTI-sensitive manner,” said Ms Spirovska.