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Gun death highlights risk of armed guards, legal experts say

Date

Gina McColl

The suspected bashing of a Protective Services Officer on Tuesday night by a man who is believed to have then stolen the officer's gun and turned it on himself highlights the risks associated with arming guards, community legal services say.

"There are going to be 940 armed guards on train stations. This incident highlights the fact that guns potentially could increase the risk that someone could be injured or even killed," said Michelle McDonnell, policy officer at the Federation of Community Legal Services.

The police have stressed that the officer injured in the incident was not a transit officer but one who has worked in security at Parliament House.

Premier Ted Baillieu said it was the first serious incident involving PSOs in the 25 years they had been guarding the parliament.

PSOs, who also perform security duties at the Shrine of Remembrance and at courts, as well as at train stations, all complete the same training.

They have similar powers to police but undergo 12 weeks' training, compared to 33 weeks' specialist training for front-line police officers.

The incident at Parliament House on Tuesday night comes less than a week after Hugh de Kretser, executive officer of the Federation of Community Legal Services, said he feared that a lack of training for PSOs in handling members of the public with mental illness, disabilities or homelessness issues, combined with their carrying arms, could lead to tragedy.

"We are concerned someone with a mental illness or intellectual disability will be shot," Mr de Kretser said.

Ms McDonnell, who is also spokesperson for community group Your Rights On Track, said her criticism of the risks associated with armed PSOs was not associated with the training they receive or the long hours of relative inactivity that characterises security jobs.

"It's not to do with the boredom factor, or the training per se, it's the fact that they have the gun on them," Ms McDonnell said. "That creates an increased risk that either a PSO or a member of the public could be injured or even fatally shot."

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