Police trial new rosters in country Victoria

Police stations are having their opening hours cut as the force trials new rosters in country Victoria, concerning locals who say there was no warning of the change.

There are fears police will take more than 30 minutes to respond to emergencies in some towns if local officers are removed.

The trials at stations near Echuca, Hamilton, and Horsham come after opening hours were cut on the Bellarine Peninsula despite protests from residents and the police union. On Tuesday, Police Minister Kim Wells ordered a review of policing in the region.

Police Association secretary Ron Iddles said it was clear the stations needed more officers, rather than reduced opening hours, and the move would put police and the community at risk. Force command says the reduced hours give police more time on the beat.

The trials are the latest development in a tug-of-war between the union and the office of Chief Commissioner Ken Lay, with the state government and opposition interested onlookers.

Mr Lay has increasingly been on the front foot about the need to modernise the force by moving away from police sitting at desks and urging a rethink on traditional models of government funding that prioritise frontline officers and new stations.

The union released a plan calling for more officers and stations earlier this month, with one of their proposals for a new suburban station supported by Labor. 

Mr Wells has repeatedly backed force command, and said no stations will close under the Coalition, despite four stations in Melbourne's east undergoing a feasibility study that Mr Lay said could result in some being closed. 

Mr Wells said he had asked Mr Lay to review policing in Bellarine, after the community outcry over reduced hours at Portarlington, Queenscliff and Drysdale stations. He said the review would include community input, despite force command saying they had consulted the community before cutting the rosters.

The six-month review will be finished after the November 29 election, which will see the marginal seat of Bellarine, held by Labor MP Lisa Neville, hotly contested.

"The Napthine government has listened to the people of the Bellarine Peninsula, they want a say in how policing will look into the future and we will provide them an avenue to be heard," Mr Wells said.

Stations in Kyabram, Rochester and Rushworth will operate under reduced rosters, along with at least four other stations across the state. Mr Lay said on Tuesday that other regional areas could expect rostering hours to be reviewed, but this was not based on changes made in Bellarine.

Kyabram Development Committee president Vince Curtis said while he had not seen data relied upon by police for the trial, which showed there were few jobs in the towns during the hours cut, it was troubling the move had been made without speaking to locals. He said there had previously been issues when pubs closed at night and the town had concerns about the use of ice, which often fuelled aggressive behaviour.

"As a town member who cares about the Kyabram community the last thing you want is less police resources."

Graeme Robertson, from the Committee 4 Rochester, said it would be difficult to convince the town's ageing population they would be safer with a police station that was closed more often.

"They need to make sure the community is well aware of what the situation is," he said.

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