updated The acting president of the Police Association of Tasmania (PAT) has claimed that frontline officers are being put at unnecessary risk — due to slow and clunky IT systems, old radio equipment and a lack of support staff.
PAT acting president Robbie Dunn told ZDNet Australia today, that dwindling support staff and dodgy equipment is preventing officers from getting vital background checks that they need of citizens before they approach them, putting the officers, themselves, at risk.
"It's affecting [the] operational safety for our people on the road. If people ring us and want us to take action, we often like to check on a situation, before we walk into it. Without proper support, we're walking into it with no idea.
"It then creates a real problem for our people on the road, who want to check someone for warnings or prior convictions before we approach them. We're told that we can't be answered, unless it's very urgent. We don't know if it's going to be urgent until we're attacked," Dunn said.
According to the association, Tasmania Police has a radio support room that performs background checks and provides operational support to frontline officers. The radio room had been staffed by 10 individuals and one supervisor, at any one time. But since May last year, those numbers have eroded, meaning that the room is lucky to be staffed by eight individuals and a supervisor, to support the whole of Tasmania Police.
On top of this, Dunn says the radio room is also handling 000 emergency inquiries, burying the already busy radio room staffers under work they can't handle.
For this reason, frontline officers' calls aren't being answered when they attempt to contact the radio support office — and that's if the "antiquated" radios work at all. Officers are encouraged to look up information on computer databases, but Dunn added that these systems are next to useless.
"Our IT system is very old. To look up checks ... we have to [use] up to seven databases to get a proper check done. Everything takes time. When there's an incident like an armed robbery, it becomes a problem."
PAT claims it has been trying to reconcile the situation with Tasmania Police over the last 12 months, and has now been left with no choice but to prepare and file a complaint with the Tasmanian Industrial Commission.
Dunn said that he wants the commission to set minimum levels of service for the police radio room to get checks done, as they are required.
ZDNet Australia had contacted Tasmania Police for comment on the matter, but had not received a reply at the time of publication.
Tasmania Police has refuted the staff-reduction claims made by the PAT, saying that there are still 59 full-time-equivalent staff running the Radio Dispatch Services (RDS) department, and "that has been the case since 2009".
Tasmania Police did admit, however, that frontline officers are often advised that during peak periods, routine checks cannot be performed through the RDS by radio. The Assistant Commissioner of Tasmania Police, Donna Adams, has said that it's standard procedure.
"Tasmania Police does not accept that operational safety is compromised by these procedures," she said.
Frontline officers are encouraged to use their mobile terminals during this time, or get background checks via traffic-administration staff or Crime Management Units around the state.
The assistant commissioner fiercely defended the work of RDS in a statement.
"Staff in Radio Dispatch [Services] provide a professional service, and to suggest its operational procedures pose a threat to members is both incorrect and undeserved. The safety of officers and the community is always a priority, and the association undermines confidence in the service when it suggests otherwise," Adams said.
According to a statement, Tasmania Police is not yet aware of the PAT's official intention to take the dispute to the Industrial Commission.
Updated at 1.10pm, 10 May 2012: added comment from Tasmania Police .