Things are not always as they seem

By Kathleen Potts and Fiona Wade

Police Federation of Australia (PFA)


Each and every January, the Productivity Commission releases its Report on Government Services (RoGs) . The aim of the report is to provide information on the equity, effectiveness and efficiency of government services across the country.


As would be expected policing is incorporated in the report, with Chapter 6 outlining the performance of police servic es including the numbers of police within each jurisdiction as well as the ACT community policing function performed by the Australian Federal Police.


All the above sounds quite reasonable … but what if the figures don’t reflect the real story?


In parallel, the Police Federation of Australia (PFA) produces an estimate of sworn and unsworn police staff numbers using State and Territory Police Service Annual Reports as a main reference. This is done in consultation with content provided directly by State and Territory branches.


And each year without fail, there is a notable difference in the total police staff numbers published in the RoGs to those calculated by the PFA. And it seems that the problem stems from a lack of consistency in the term “operational” and “non – operational”.


As far back as 2012 the PFA began advocating for national consistency when reporting on police figures. This has included writing to all Commissioners requesting breakdowns of operational and non – operational police in an attempt to assist in developing a comparable picture across the jurisdictions.


The PFA also wrote to the Productivity Commission several times highlighting concerns with the report, but to no avail.


From the PFA’s perspective one of the main issues w ith the Productivity Commission’s Police Services Report relates to the categorisation s used in the report. For example, the Productivity Commission states that “police staff may be categorised in two different ways:


• By “sworn” status — sworn police officers exercise police powers, including the power to arrest, summons, caution, detain, fingerprint and search (tables 6A.1 – 8). Specialised activities may be outsourced or undertaken by administrative (unsworn) staff.


• By “operational” status — an operational police staff member is any member (sworn or unsworn) whose primary duty is the delivery of police or police – related services to an external client (where an external client predominately refers to members of the publi c but may also include law enforcement outputs delivered to other government departments).

According to the Productivity Commission “operational status” is considered the most reliable estimate for the number of police staff, actively engaged in the delivery of police – related services.


But the PFA firmly believes that such a broad definition allows for the inflation of  “operational” police staff numbers by the inclusion of non – frontline police and support staff. Such a claim is supported by reviewing the report’s “operational” polic e staff numbers by jurisdiction, where in every instance, the number provided in the RoGs exceeds the number of sworn police officers.


If readers of the report want to further scrutinise the numbers, they must review detailed tables (6A.1 to 6A.8) found within the report, and manually separate “operational sworn and “non – operational sworn” numbers to determine the total number of sworn police staff for each jurisdiction. But once calculated there is a vast difference in actual sworn numbers and the number of  “operational” police listed in the report.


What makes this problem worse, is the fact that individual police services report police staff numbers according to different met hodologies, thus making national comparisons difficult.


Each police jurisdiction can have a differing definition of “operational staff member” which potentially can result in almost anyone on the police payroll falling into the category of  “operational”. And just to make things a little more complex, any comparison of police staffing numbers are further complicated by the non – standardisation of categories within Police Service Annual Reports.


For instance, while the majority of jurisdictions report police numbers by Full Time E quivalent (FTE) there are some that report by headcount. And some jurisdictions switch between FTE and headcount depending on what is reported on, and there is at least one jurisdiction that provides their numbers in percentages or graphs without providing the raw data.


The PFA believe that it is in the public’s interest, to know how many police are protecting their community. These numbers should all be available as comparisons across each jurisdiction, on a police per 100,000 population basis as well as by gender.


While the Police Services Report states that “staffing by gender is an indicator of governments’ objective to provide police services in an equitable manner,” the PFA also sees an inadequacy of the reporting by gender. It is interesting to note that there is no raw data that shows the numbers of sworn males versus sworn female police officers anywhere in the report, with the only data pertaining to the number of women presented as a percentage of all staff; making it difficult to answer the question of h ow many female “frontline” police officers there are in Australia.


The PFA recently took the opportunity to voice concern over the weaknesses in the reporting and analysis of national police numbers, specifically applying to gender, in a Parliamentary submission to the inquiry into Gender Segregation in the Workplace and its Impact on Women’s Economic Equality.


In its submission the PFA said: “Without consistency and transparency in the reporting of national police numbers, particularly as it applies to gender then it is difficult to accurately track participation rate progress especially ‘frontline’ rates for police women. Detailed and standardised reporting across jurisdictions is essential to ensure police services and government maintain high levels of accountability and the public have access to clear comparative data.

Further Police Service Annual Reports should include clear sets of indicators, objectives and transparent results / targets achieved annually pertaining to women in leadership, career progression and the development of women in the police. Clear strategic goals need to be set to measure progress nationally.”

There is an appreciation that some of the issues raised by the PFA may be considered by various police departments as too difficult. But the PFA believes that if the Police Services Chapter of the Report on Government Services is to have significant credibility, then there needs to be meaningful, tightly defined consistent definitions.


As the Australian Government’s independent research and advisory body, the Productivity Commission has a responsibility to provide the public with a transparent and detailed breakdown of true police numbers as do the individual State and Territory Police Services.




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