Victoria’s Protective Services Officers will be given new powers to stop and search people for drugs and they’ll be able to leave the station to respond to incidents on the street.
The government says new legislation, to be introduced to state parliament on Wednesday, will give PSOs the power to arrest people who breach parole, conduct drug searches and request names and addresses of people who witness crimes.
They will also be able to leave their stations to respond to nearby incidents, something they are not currently authorised to do.
“You can be frustrated at certain times when you wish you could help and you wish you could be seen to be doing something,” PSO Jake Lindus told reporters in Melbourne on Tuesday.
“If there’s something just up the road, maybe 100 or 200 metres away and there’s not a police van coming for a few minutes, you could get there quicker and help out.”
Mr Lindus says if the legislation passes, it will help PSOs “a great deal” to keep the community safe.
The Police Association says the state’s PSOs have been frustrated for some time that they can’t follow people who leave the station.
Police Association secretary Sergeant Wayne Gatt said it gave them more flexibility to make arrests and make the vicinity safer.
The new legislation is part of the government’s Community Safety Plan, which also includes 100 mobile PSOs, funded in the state budget.
They will tackle hotspots and move across the public transport network, including on buses and trams.
Police Minister Lisa Neville says their expanded powers will allow officers to patrol events like Moomba to assist police with weapons checks.
“This will allow our PSOs to undertake drug searches … particularly in the inner city of Melbourne where it is a significant issue,” Ms Neville said.
“It’s not just about criminalising drug use, it’s also about providing protection for other commuters.”
The Greens say the plan will encourage people under the influence of recreational drugs to drive rather than risk being searched at the station.
“We’ve been treating personal drug use as a criminal problem for decades, and it’s gotten us nowhere,” Green MP Colleen Hartland said in a statement.
The Police Association says drug users on public transport are a danger to the community and it’s important PSOs have the power to arrest them.