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Low crime levels raise doubts on armed officers

Date

Reid Sexton

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MOST Melbourne rail stations go months without serious crimes being committed, raising doubts about the Baillieu government's plan to spend hundreds of millions of dollars placing armed guards at each one.

Figures obtained by The Age show many stations experience no serious crimes in a typical year while many more see just one or two, with the safer stations bundled together in the east and south-east.

The most dangerous suburban station is Dandenong where more than 55 assaults and 12 robberies were recently recorded in one year, along with 60 drug offences.

Train station crime in your neighbourhood

Enter your post code to see crime statistics for the train stations in your area.
Data is the sum of incidents at all stations in the post code.

The Victoria Police statistics raise questions about the effectiveness of the $60-million-a-year plan in reducing crime, and undermine government claims that the flagship policy is needed to improve safety.

Under the controversial plan, which the government announced pre-election as part of its tough-on-crime agenda, two protective services officers will guard each station between 6pm and the last train each night.

The government plans to employ 940 PSOs by the November 2014 election and has already deployed them at stations such as Flinders Street and Frankston.

While the government this year raised the cost of all police fines by 15 per cent and slashed TAFE funding in a challenging economic environment, it has repeatedly committed to the PSO rollout. This is despite the cost blowing out from $181 million pre-election to between $230 and $260 million in its first four years alone after the government amended the rollout timeline and underestimated the cost of building changing rooms at police stations.

But figures for 2010-11, the latest year for which stats were available, show many of the PSOs will have little work to do.

The safest stations in Melbourne are Royal Park and Beaconsfield, where no crime was reported that year.

How many assaults were there at train station in your area last year?

Postcodes appear darker depending on the number of assaults in that area in the last financial year.

Interactives by Marc Moncrief and Craig Butt

These are closely followed by 27 stations where no crimes against the person such as robbery, assault or any sexual crime were committed, including Willison and Burwood on the Alamein line and stations along the Stony Point line.

More than one-third of the network - 80 stations - had two or less crimes against the person. And a further 35 stations had three or four crimes against the person committed there, meaning more than half the network's 215 stations have a serious crime generally committed there just once every three months or longer.

While Victoria Police would not provide data, it is estimated it will cost at least $200,000 per year per station to pay the salaries of PSOs.

Monash University political lecturer Nick Economou said despite evidence PSOs were not needed at every station, the government would likely keep the plan. ''If they were smart about this stuff they would say we've looked at the statistics … and maybe there's a case for allocating resources more efficiently, sending them where they're needed,'' he said. ''They may do that but it seems to me this is almost a matter of principle … and I'm sure [the Coalition is] convinced it's one of the reasons they won an election they didn't expect to win.''

Economist Saul Eslake said: ''We are paying a high financial price … and a price to our civil liberties, for the misreading of the risks we face and an inability to make intelligent judgments about probabilities and costs versus benefits.''

A spokesman for Police Minister Peter Ryan said many passengers on the network were scared at night and they widely supported the policy.

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