A debate about public safety and policing is underway in Victoria with Liberal Premier Ted Baillieu announcing plans to introduce guards armed with semi-automatic weapons, batons and capsicum spray on Melbourne’s train stations. Similar debates are also taking place in other states.
Baillieu claims the proposal, for 940 Protective Services Officers (PSO) to patrol train stations after dark, is aimed at addressing safety and anti-social behaviour on the transport system. The guards will reportedly be granted police-like powers to apprehend and arrest people.
This plan should be opposed in the first instance because there has not been any increase in crime in many areas. Police figures show that in 2009 at 116 out of 200 train stations there were actually no assaults recorded at all. The facts are that people are more likely to be assaulted at a pub or at home than at a train station.
Safety concerns have also been raised about the dangers of poorly trained guards carrying firearms. At the moment the proposal is that the PSOs will only be required to complete an eight week course – about a third of the training that police officers receive.
Already, over the past three decades, Victoria has had more fatal police shootings than any other state. Many put this down to poor training and bad tactics when dealing with tense situations. This problem will only be magnified with the introduction of more guns and inexperienced guards.
The major parties claim that crime and anti-social behaviour is the biggest problem facing ordinary people. We need to ask if this is really the case or if there are more fundamental problems that affect society. Also what are the root causes of crime and what is the best way to undermine anti-social behaviour?
The major parties often focus on law and order in an attempt to divert attention away from bigger issues that people face. Anti-social behaviour is linked to poverty and social deprivation. Studies have shown that the biggest factors likely to trigger violence and criminal activity are prolonged economic hardship, stress, school exclusion and drug or alcohol abuse.
Clearly by creating real jobs on decent wages, and investing in health, education and social services, crime and anti-social behaviour could be drastically undermined. Instead of spending an estimated $200 million on PSOs the money should be used to reintroduce costumer service staff at all train stations. At the same time if the public transport system was brought back into public ownership, and under community control, we could begin the process of expanding the system and making it free. More trains on the tracks would greatly reduce commuter stress.
Armed guards will not stop anti-social behaviour on train stations. When coupled with an underfunded public transport system and a worsening economic situation they will only aggravate the social divisions that exist.
Ultimately the best way to improve public safety is to break from the dog eat dog system of capitalism and to start putting people’s needs before profits. On this basis we could carry out the measures necessary to improve people’s living standards across the board.