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Western Australian Police Critically Understaffed: Union Boss

The Western Australian (WA) Police Union has warned the state’s police force is facing critical shortages after over 500 police resigned or retired last year.

The WA Police Union’s acting president Paul Gale, on Jan. 16, said that 465 sworn police officers resigned last year, and a further 97 retired, making it the highest number of resignations and retirements in the state police force’s 189-year history and more than doubling those leaving in 2021.

This means the state’s police force went from 7,112 to 6,893 in just one year.

“These figures are horrendous. The total number of sworn officers went backwards,” Gale said. “Over 220 in the last 12 months. I’m disappointed, but I’m not surprised.”

The comments from the police union are in stark contrast to those from the Western Australian government, which said in October 2022 that there were more officers on the beat now than when they came into office.

“The Western Australian Police Force has already recruited more than 1,000 new officers over the past two years,” WA Minister for Police Paul Papalia said. “We have more than 480 additional officers on the beat right now, compared with when we took office.”

“There have never been more police on our streets, and the McGowan government is committed to continuing our record police recruitment drive and making WA safer for our community.”

Gale also alleges that the reason for the huge number of resignations was the state’s police force’s rigid leadership, poor pay and conditions, lack of career opportunities, and cultural groupthink.

“I received one email after another from police officers saying they’d resigned from the agency and listing the many cultural and organisational issues that caused them to make their decision,” he said.

Gale is also calling on the Western Australian police force to release the anonymous data from the exit interviews of former police officers and for opposition political parties to hold the McGovern Labor government to account for this negligence.

Government Looking to Solve Issue With Overseas Recruitment

The WA government has been attempting to address the resignations via an overseas recruitment drive from the UK, Ireland and New Zealand police forces, with a promise of recruiting 950 offices by 2024.

However, Gale has warned this is simply a band-aid solution.

“The union supports the government’s overseas recruitment drive. However, this is only a band-aid solution,” he said.

“It’s only a matter of time before these new recruits obtain permanent residency and become familiar with the many cultural and organisational issues in WA police.”

Gale notes that the union would continue to push for an additional two percent pay rise on top of the recent three percent increase and bonus payment.

“Three percent is not good enough, and that’s why we’ll continue to search for the five per cent that we asked for in the first place,” he said.

He said the state’s police officers had been patient for five years during a financial restructuring and worked through the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’ve sat and adhered to what they needed, done our job, gone above and beyond … and expect to be recompensed for all that effort,” he said.

“For the McGowan government to do what they have this year and offer what they have is a slap in the face for our members.”

Greens Call for More Federal Mental Health Support for Police

Meanwhile, WA Greens Senator Dorinda Cox, a former WA police officer, has called for the federal government to provide more mental health support for the organisation.

“As a former WA police officer, I understand the cultural issues within the organisation, but I’ve also experienced the daily challenges, the thankless tasks, and the traumatic incidents of working on the frontline,” Cox said.

“While health services are available to all members of the force, we need to ensure that the wellbeing of police officers is a priority. They need to be physically and mentally fit to perform their crucial role in the community.”

Cox is calling for the federal government to follow the recommendations of a 2019 Senator inquiry into the mental health of first responders. The inquiry found that there was a need to implement a National Action Plan on first responder mental health, which called for the federal government to step up to provide more mental health support for first responders around the country.

“The committee recommended compulsory first responder and management mental health awareness training, the establishment of a national register of health professionals who specialise in first responder mental health, and early intervention mental health support services be made available with the aim of preventing or reducing the severity of mental health conditions,” she said.

“Blame shifting won’t curb the attrition rate of WA police but understanding and treating the trauma that officers take home with them every day might be a productive first step.”

Victoria Kelly-Clark

Victoria Kelly-Clark is an Australian based reporter who focuses on national politics and the geopolitical environment in the Asia-pacific region, the Middle East and Central Asia.

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