LEADING FROM THE FRONT: Mildura police Inspector Kevin Coughlan, Superintendent Rebecca Olsen and Inspector John Nolan look ahead to what 2019 has in store for local members.

By VINNIE RODI

A NEW year brings with it new challenges, with this certainly being the case for our region’s dedicated Victoria Police members.

Mallee-based police are preparing for another big year in 2019, with Western Division 6 Superintendent Rebecca Olsen catching up with the Mildura Weekly this week to outline the organisation’s areas of focus.

While continuing to address Mildura’s high rate of family violence incidents remains a priority (the region’s family violence incident rate per 100,000 population remain three times higher than the State average), Supt Olsen also outlined several other areas of focus, including maintaining staffing and resource levels after a trying 2018.

“In 2018 the focus for our leadership team was building resources,” Supt Olsen said. “With the number of vacancies continuing to grow, we had a big job building up the attraction of the Mallee for people to come and join our team.

“We’re starting to reap the rewards of that work now, and have effectively halved our vacancy rate from 40 positions across the division down to the low teens.

“The Mallee is now a priority placement position through the VicPol academy, and on average we have 20 people on the list at any one time wanting to come here, which is promising, and is the most we’ve had at any time.

“We also have Police Custody Officers (PCOs) stationed locally, so we have quite a few career pathways available. Having PCOs on board means some of the work of a sworn member is being covered, and frees up other resources to be on the street.”

Supt Olsen said “real progress” had also been made with the local leadership team.

“Within our Senior Sergeant cohort and above we’ve built a really diverse team that have some skills that complement the work that they are doing,” she said. “Over the next 12 months we’ll be looking to continue to grow our Sergeant cohort.

“We’ve also had a lot of success attracting Constables and Senior Constables to the Mallee, now we just need to develop some leadership within those recruits.”

With improved resources comes the capacity to target key crime categories, with family violence and youth offending a top priority, according to Supt Olsen.

“Our focus for the next 12 months is continuing the drive around family violence, as it still makes up a significant part of our workload,” she said. “We also still see a smaller cohort of youth that are causing significant high-risk across all Mallee crime categories, but are also featuring as victims, which is even more concerning.

“Regarding family violence… with our specialist investigation unit now up and running we will see family violence reporting, hopefully, grow, as we want to build confidence in victims to report and seek help.

“That might not necessarily be solely through police, as people can now directly present to agencies outside of police, which can provide a level of comfort to make those reports and seek the help needed. It’s an alternative that we haven’t had before.”

Supt Olsen said that in addition to family violence, property damage was always a focus for local members.

“It currently makes up a good 10 percent of our crime,” she said. “Non-family violence-related assaults are also a concern, especially because the majority of these incidents involve alcohol, which is quite a significant contributor to offending across the Mallee.”

Supt Olsen said Victoria Police was still rolling out specialist positions within the local Family Violence Investigation Unit, with court liaison officers also expected to start in the coming weeks.

“Strength in the number of investigators is also increasing. These are hard-working units, so the more numbers the better,” she said.

Supt Olsen said Victoria Police would also continue to work closely with its local partners, while also aiming to work closely with the community.

“We’ve always had some really strong partnerships in the Mallee with stakeholders like DHHS, and we’re very close with our NSW colleagues,” she said. “Over the next 12 months we’re going to have a far deeper focus on how we can actually make some progress.

“For us to do that we need to build a community web of protection. There’s only so much all the agencies in town can achieve without the support of community to make changes.

“We all have a responsibility to make our town a safer place, and if we want to reduce the opportunity that offenders have to build the number of victims in our town then we have to actually work far more proactively.

“It starts with looking out for each other, and sharing what people know. The obligation that I have is to keep the community informed.

“There’s no secrets in the land of crime. Crime statistics are released every quarter, so there’s no secrets as to how that is going, it’s really a matter of how we can work together to make a difference.

“It might be as simple as looking out for a neighbour… it might be about helping to promote gender equality… because we know that family violence is linked to gender inequality.

“It’s a very complex issue that there is no simple solution to, but there’s significant progress we can make.”