Youthlaw, Victoria’s youth legal centre and Youth Affaris Council Victoria (YACVic), the state’s peak body for young people and the youth sector, have condemned a Bill to expand the reach of Protective Services Officers (PSOs), saying that there is no evidence that PSOs improve community safety, and that young people and Aboriginal Victorians are among those who will bear the brunt of the increased policing of public space.

The bill, expected to pass through Parliament today, amends the Victoria Police Act 2013 to expand the area where PSOs exercise their powers beyond the public transport network, to include places such as shopping centres, malls and other crowded places.

Youthlaw and YACVic have rejected claims that expanded presence will improve safety, and criticised PSOs lack of training and accountability. The organisations have also questioned the timing of expanded presence when the Victorian Government has yet to respond to the IBAC Parliamentary Committee Report  into the external oversight of police corruption and misconduct in Victoria (2018).

A 2016 Victorian Auditor General’s Officer report on public transport safety found no evidence PSOs on trains have improved community safety and reported that Victoria Police did not have an “effective performance monitoring regime in place to support ongoing development or future advice on the program's efficiency or effectiveness.

Quotes attributable to Ariel Couchman, CEO, Youthlaw

“There is no evidence that PSOs deter crime or provide community security, and no compelling reason to expand their powers. We are calling for a review of the PSO program rather than expansion of their duties.”

“PSO training is grossly inadequate, with a mere 12 weeks of training, before they are able to carry lethal weapons into our most crowded community spaces, and have the power to detain and move people on.”

“We already hear about incidents at train stations involving PSOs and excessive fining of particular groups of young people those with mental illness and people of colour. The lack of training for PSOs, coupled with the lack of an independent complaints system, leaves these kids open to unfair, over-policing.”

“Expanding PSOs at a time when Australia is reflecting on its own shameful history of Aboriginal deaths in custody is utterly tone-deaf.”

Media enquiries: Lanie Harris 0418 552 377 or mediacomms@youthlaw.asn.au

Quotes attributable to Katherine Ellis, CEO, YACVic

 “Young people will be particularly vulnerable to over-policing post pandemic if PSOs are expanded to patrol shopping centres and main streets. These are some of the few public places that young people are able to gather together in relative safety, and which don’t cost any money.”

“A better and more strategic investment would be in more community activities, job opportunities and supports for marginalised young people.”

Media enquiries: Thomas Feng 0431 285 275 or tfeng@yacvic.org.au

About Youthlaw

Youthlaw is a community legal service providing legal advice and representation to young people under the age of 25. Youthlaw is a fearless advocate for young people, and strives for a just and equitable society for, and by, young people. It does this byaddressing systemic legal and social justice issues in Victoria through community education, advocacy and law reform.

About YACVic

Youth Affairs Council Victoria (YACVic) is the peak body and leading advocate for young people aged 12–25 and the youth sector in Victoria. Established in 1960, YACVic advocates for the rights of young people in Victoria to ensure they are active, visible and valued in their communities.

Image credit: Marcus Wong, 2012.