When the promise was made to post two Protective Services Officers to every railway station in Melbourne, the intent was to make passengers feel safe at night time. So why are PSOs now turning into part of a surveillance state?
The other week on Reddit a poster had this to say about their run-in with a PSO at their local station:
My finance was leaving Ashburton Railway Station yesterday evening and saw a PSO walking around the parking area’s noting down registration numbers of all of the cars parked there for the day. She was a little off-put by this so approached the officer and asked if she had anything to be concerned about.
The PSO replied that they take down all of the registration numbers and then go inside and run them through their computer. Any car that comes up with suspended registration/license will have a patrol car waiting for them to drive off when they get in their car.
Relying on random internet scuttlebutt is a good way to make yourself look stupid, so I went kept an eye out next time I caught a train after 6 PM.
You’d think Sunshine is a place where Protective Services Officers should be keeping an eye out for delinquents, yet both the station platform and concourse were empty.
But when I looked out over the car park, I saw the two PSOs wandering past the rows of cars, scribbling down something in their notebook.
I paid a visit to Footscray station at the tail end of evening peak, and saw the same thing taking place.
When then Opposition Leader Ted Baillieu made the promise to introduce Protective Services Officers, he had the following to say:
”We’ll turn stations from places of fear into places of safety,” Mr Baillieu said.
”We want anyone – a young girl, an elderly woman – travelling home on the train at night to do so with confidence and not with fear.”
In reality Baillieu’s promise was targeted at namby-pamby Liberal voters who are afraid of youths and anyone who isn’t white, but it does raise the question – how the hell is hunting down deadbeats with unpaid fines making the rail network safer for passengers?
On a serious note
So far I’ve only spotted PSOs jotting down the details of parked cars at the start of their shifts – possibly it is their first task of the night after clocking on, before heading to the station proper when darkness falls.
As for the dragnet being thrown over railway stations, in April 2013 The Age ran a piece on PSOs ‘asking too many questions’ – over the course of a year they took down the names and date of birth of 29,000 people, resulting in the arrest of over 500 people for outstanding warrants.
In the end, we are on a slippery slope towards a police state – someone with unpaid fines might be the same kind of person responsible for actual criminal activity, but in order to take them off the streets, is it worth losing our freedom to use the rail network without being needlessly questioned by the authorities?
I’ve pushed this post out earlier than planned, after The Age published a piece on the topic on February 17, in which they speak to spokespeople from Victoria Police and Liberty Victoria:
“As part of their daily duties, Protectives Services Officers regularly check car parks,” police spokesman Inspector Darren Cooper said.
“PSOs will be checking for stolen vehicles, outstanding warrants, outstanding whereabouts, unlicensed and unregistered drivers,” he said.
“The car park is part of a normal, designated patrol area for PSOs, and by doing these checks, it allows them to further ensure safe travel for those using the public transport system, as well as aiding in Victoria Police’s commitment to road safety.”
Liberty Victoria spokesman George Georgiou said the policy represented a significant overreach of police powers, and was an unnecessary intrusion into the privacy of Melbourne’s commuters.
“Whilst we understand that there is be a need for police to deal with persons avoiding their responsibilities to pay fines, register their cars and the like, we see this move to use PSOs in the manner described in the article as overstepping the legitimate functions of PSOs and unnecessarily encroaching upon the right to privacy and freedom of movement of all Victorian commuters,” he said.
My concerns exactly.