Is it normal for police stations in rural areas in Tasmania to be under-manned at night?
This is the question I asked myself in March 2016, when I went camping at Port Arthur.
On the first night of my stay, one particular man was clearly thinking about the tragic massacre that took place in 1996.
He shouted out things about it throughout the night, often referring to the conspiracy theories surrounding the tragic event.
His voice, filled with anger, was slurred. He’d obviously been drinking too much.
I didn’t get any sleep that night, nor did anyone else. I just lay in my tent, wide awake, listening to this guy and wondering: Is he dangerous? Does he have a weapon on him? The police should be called to sort this out.
Well, it turns out that the police were called during the night. Three times, in fact.
But they were unable to come because there was only one officer on duty at the Dunalley Police Station, and apparently he couldn’t leave the station unmanned.
The police finally came between 8:00am and 9:00am, when more of them were on duty.
They made the man vacate the premises. They then pulled him over at the entrance of the caravan park and charged him for drink-driving.
In a statement, rural inspector Scott Flude explains that the low police presence in rural areas at night is normal, because of the number of people requiring assistance is low.
Despite this, he says, “Tasmania Police is committed to providing quality policing services in all areas of the state, including rural communities.”
He explains police officers in rural areas go to community meetings on a regular basis so that they can address any issues that might arise.
He also says most work in rural areas can be done by the local country police officer while in the car.
“The car now serves generally as a mobile police station, as each officer is issued with a tablet device which enables them to complete most tasks during the course of the day whilst patrolling.”
What does the public think?
Steph Stinkens, co-owner of the Dunalley Waterfront Café & Gallery, believes Dunalley is well-policed.
“There’s a couple of police these days, who actually live in Dunalley,” she explains.
She said that she and her business partner know both of them quite well, because they come into the café regularly to buy coffees. She then explains that they’re always around. They’ll walk or drive through town, they’ll frequent the businesses, and they’ll talk to people.
She feels the area is policed very well for these reasons.
But she said there’s normally only one of them on duty at night.
“I feel that they’re not needed all that often at night in Dunalley,” she said. “But because they’re responsible for other areas like Primrose Sands, they get called out pretty often.”
Robert Cleaver, who owns a property at Primrose Sands, claims there is a lack of police patrols there. He says this absence of patrols has given rise to a large amount of crimes in the area, especially at night.
“I think there should be more police patrols in the area,” he says.
He believes the amount of crimes would decrease if more police patrolled the area regularly.
He also believes other services provided in Primrose Sands by Tasmania Police need to be improved.
“I’ll tell you something that left me absolutely wild,” he says, anger and frustration in his voice.
He explains he’d gone down to Primrose for a weekend, and there were two police officers at the bridge that leads into the area. They were breathalysing drivers.
“They pulled me and the guy in front of me over to be tested,” Mr. Cleaver said. “But there was a taxi driver behind me, and they didn’t pull him over. That really pissed me off.”
He guessed that, while taxi companies might have policies about drivers drinking alcohol, it wouldn’t stop some of them.
“My wife said to me that the cops might end up pulling him over on his way out,” Mr. Cleaver continues. “But for all we knew, he could’ve just knocked off for the day and was staying in the area for the night. So the cops need to improve the way they do things.”
Inspector Flude’s response to this
Inspector Flude explained that Tasmania Police carry out their operations in rural areas to the best of their abilities.
He said officers in rural areas work shift work, and there are also two officers that are on call in each area to respond to tasks outside normal hours if required.
Since 2014, Tasmania Police have developed the Rural Roads Policing Strategy. The strategy’s objective is to reduce the number of fatal and serious injury crashes on rural roads, which are often caused by speeding, drink- and drug-driving, inattention, failure to wear seatbelts, and fatigue.
The strategy was created after Tasmania Police recognized that a large amount of crashes happen on roads in rural areas.
The strategy will run until the end of the year, and they will then undertake a review.
The academic’s view
Taking everything so far into account, one can see that there are a number of conflicting pieces of information, as well as differing points of view.
For example, Inspector Flude said policing services in rural areas are provided at the highest quality, while Mr. Cleaver states that such services are rather poor.
Roberta Julian, the head of the University of Tasmania’s Institute of Law Enforcement Studies, is able to make things a lot simpler.
“Based on what I’ve been told by police, the officers who are still present in country areas are there predominately as a legacy of the history,” she says.
“There’s a decreased demand for policing services in rural areas because of a declining population and a low crime rate. This is historically.”
She then says that police officers in rural areas are not dealing with priority crimes. Instead, they are doing a large amount of community policing.
“By doing this,” she said, “they get to know the community. When they know the community, the officers are doing individual policing because they know everybody and they know who’s at risk of getting into trouble. They therefore do a lot of early crime intervention and prevention stuff. I see that as what police should be doing. But the type of policing they do in rural areas is different to the sort they do in more urban areas.”
It now seems clear that the crime rate is low in the rural areas where there is a police station, because the officers are doing community policing. In areas where there isn’t a police station, such as Primrose Sands and Port Arthur, more crimes take place because there is not a strong police presence.
But the number of officers in rural areas is due increase.
Police recruitment was on track to meet 1,233 full time equivalent police officers by March 2018.
According to Tasmania Police, there were 1225 full-time equivalent police officers as of 4th April 2018. The graduation of Police Recruit Course 3/2017 in June 2018 brought the number to around 1,233.
But Tasmania Police need to change the methods they use in rural areas in order to do so.
It seems that stations need to be established in areas that don’t already have one, like Primrose Sands. If they are established, there would be more officers to effectively deal with crimes.
But having more stations in rural areas seems unlikely to happen, according to Professor Julian.
“Tasmania Police are actually wanting to close down stations in rural areas,” she explains.
“What they’re wanting to do in the future is have regional hubs instead of a station in each area.”
She adds that having hubs would enable officers to deal with crimes more efficiently and use technology better.
It is clear that times are changing. There is no doubt that the ways Tasmania Police deal with crimes will change, for better or worse.