A senior Victorian police commander has ruled out the reintroduction of a specific livestock squad for the State, despite calls from industry and criminal experts that a shake-up is required.
I think Victoria needs to consider adopting a similar model to NSW and Queensland, with a dedicated group of rural crime investigators who can work tirelessly on investigation and crime prevention.
New farm crime head of practice, Superintendent Peter Greaney confirmed police command had recently received a review of the Agricultural Liaison Officer (AGLO) scheme.
But Superintendent Greaney said at this stage, the "status quo will remain the same".
He said police would further review the AGLO program in the coming months to see what further training was required, rather than bringing in a new system.
“I want to reinvigorate the current AGLO program, upskilling our current officers and ensuring we have sufficient staff across the organisation," he said.
The review looked at the AGLO program, first introduced in 2011, to see if it was still fit for purpose and what changes were required.
It’s believed the report had a strong focus on crime prevention.
Superintendent Greaney said police were on a “fact-finding mission” and hoped to speak with community members, the Victorian Farmers Federation and primary producers.
“We will still have AGLOs across the State, but that’s not to say in the future there won’t be some changes," he said.
But he ruled out the establishment of a dedicated stock squad.
“That’s not on the radar as far as Victoria Police is concerned,” he said.
The divisional community engagement inspector had been working with police in the western region, and that would be duplicated in the east of the State.
“He’s been sitting down with community members and asking how they feel we can better deliver a service,” he said.
“Certainly stakeholders appear to be happy with police.
“Some of the general information that's coming back is that some of our police, working in rural locations, need to be a bit more savvy in regards to the farming community.
"Policing in a rural environment is completely different to policing in a metropolitan environment.”
Superintendent Greaney flagged more work around crime detection in rural communities on “a whole range of issues”, such as fuel and firearms theft, as well as the stealing of livestock.
“There’s no doubt livestock theft is increasing, and we need to make sure our members are basically trained in some of the more specific details around tagging, which can be quite difficult," he said.
He said Victoria had some excellent AGLOs, some of whom were actively involved in their farming communities.
Victorian Farmers Federation livestock group president Leonard Vallance said he wasn’t surprised at the decision to continue with AGLOs, but was disappointed with the outcome.
“I knew that right from the get-go,” Mr Vallance said.
“This government are not interested in rural crime.”
He said rural crime had reached ridiculous levels.
"We are rapidly returning to the law of the jungle," he said.
Mr Vallance said the police had put the AGLO review “under the leg of the desk".
“It’s all very well to have AGLOs if they are going to resource them correctly, but if they don’t have a car to go out into the paddock and have a look at something, what’s the point?" he said.
“I feel for the police officers who genuinely want to help people in rural areas, but it’s not on the political horizon of politicians and police command.
“If it were, we would have them funded and equipped; they have had AGLOs for how long, and they still haven't got equipment?"
Federation University senior lecturer in criminal justice Dr Alistair Harkness urged Victoria to look to other states and jurisdictions for a new model of rural policing.
“I think Victoria needs to consider, very seriously, adopting a similar model to that in place in NSW and Queensland, with a dedicated group of rural crime investigators who can work tirelessly on investigation and crime prevention," Dr Harkness said.
“The models in NSW and Queensland appear to be working very well, as is the model in the United Kingdom.”
He said volume crimes, such as multiple thefts from one area, like a railway station, took the focus away from offences occurring on farms.
“For instance, if a lot of cars in a railway station car park are broken into, that prompts a number of people to report those crimes, and those individual reports need to be followed up," he said.
“The police have to deal with 20 people, instead of one.
"Meanwhile, a valuable piece of equipment or livestock, which is ready for market, may have been stolen."
He said NSW was divided into three regions, which enabled more attention to detail.
“There’s a sergeant and a number of rural crime investigators working in those areas, overseen by a senior police officer," he said.
"They are working with farmers in rural communities to prevent crime happening in the first place.
“It really goes to the heart of prevention is better than cure.
“I have seen the work they are doing, which is of incredibly high quality, and we need to ensure Victorian farmers similarly get a high level of service.”