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SAPOL's Brexit strategy: no more British bobbies on the beat

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One of the Rann Government’s more idiosyncratic law and order policies – a recruitment strategy aimed at bringing British bobbies to Australia to bolster police numbers – has been officially abandoned more than a decade after it began.

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SAPOL and the Weatherill Government today confirmed they had ceased active recruitment outside South Australian borders – a decision that will see the promise to add 313 new officers by 2018 blow out by two years.

It’s been a commitment long pledged but never fulfilled, with the realisation date having already gone from 2014 to 2016 to 2018, before the latest setback – prompting Police Association president Mark Carroll to decry the reviewed timetable as “disingenuous and misleading”.

“The Government originally promised it would deliver the extra officers not by 2018 but four years earlier – by 2014, and then again by 2016,” he told InDaily in a statement.

“So the Government has now three times reneged on this promise to the SA community.”

He pointed out that Premier Jay Weatherill had told the union’s 2014 annual conference that he had personally delivered as Treasurer an additional $35 million to meet the 2018 target, and promised: “This commitment will be honoured.”

Carroll said recruitment had suffered from Weatherill’s own government-wide spending cuts, and “the onus is now clearly on the Weatherill Government to explain to the SA public why it has reneged multiple times on the promise to deliver 313 extra police officers by 2014”.

“The association believes that Premier Weatherill’s track record on this issue proves he can’t be trusted to deliver this commitment to the SA community,” he said.

But Police Minister Peter Malinauskas insisted the latest setback did not constitute a broken promise.

“Absolutely not,” he said.

“This will ensure South Australians have the best possible opportunity to work in what is a great working environment… we want to see South Australians working in the SA police force.

“Our commitment to recruit 313 [new officers] will be honoured, and will be honoured by 2020.”

Malinauskas said “in the context of the SA Government’s commitment to jobs in this state we ought to make sure South Australians are given every opportunity to win those jobs”.

But the policy re-alignment means the end of one of the more imaginative strategies of the Rann era: the drive to bring British bobbies to SA in droves.

It was an initiative long defended by the Government, with former Attorney-General Michael Atkinson telling parliament in 2005 that “although the most generous provision ever has been made for police recruitment… there has been a difficulty in hiring suitable police recruits”.

“Before someone is recruited as a police officer or for police training, those people must be very carefully scrutinised and checked so that suitable people are hired and, for that reason, police officers have been brought from the United Kingdom, ready-made police officers, to form part of that police complement,” he said at the time.

Police Commissioner Grant Stevens told media today that the UK bobbies had been “great for the organisation” and “we’ve learned a lot from those serving police officers”.

“Their attrition rate is relatively low in the context of the sort of change they had in their experience, but it’s not something we’d choose to do if we don’t have to,” he said.

Stevens said the 313 target would be pushed back because more intensive training was required.

“Overseas recruiting targets serving police officers in other jurisdictions, [and] when we recruit those people we’re able to bring them in to SAPOL in a streamlined training program, which means we’re able to put them in and… deploy them onto the frontline in a quicker fashion than local recruits,” he said.

“To recruit locals means we’re recruiting people who don’t have any experience in policing, which means they do the full 12-month training program.”

Opposition Police spokesman Dan van Holst Pellekaan said the Government had “failed dismally to put the police on the streets that it promised”.

He said there had been seven police ministers since the target was first set in 2010, but since that time “they’ve only recruited about 30 extra police officers”.

“There’s no genuine belief that they’re even serious about this,” he said.

“I think it’s a completely implausible excuse to say that they need to delay the target because they want to employ local people when we have the highest unemployment in the nation… I reject entirely the excuse that they need to spend more money to take longer to do it.”

Last week’s state budget committed an extra $16.1 million to help meet the recruitment target.

“This was a promise made in 2010,” said van Holst Pellekaan.

“It’s completely unacceptable to say – in 2016 – ‘we’re going to delay the promise now because we want to focus on employing local people’.”

Stevens said he believed the current staffing levels were “adequate” to meet demand.

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