The following is a transcript of Topher’s interview with former Victoria Police Officer Krystle Mitchell from Episode 41 of The Aussie Wire News which aired on the 19th of September 2023.
Topher: Well, police shortages are in the news nationally right around the country, but especially in Victoria where it seems to be particularly acute. And I thought, who better to speak to than a former Victoria Police officer, Krystle Mitchell. Krystle joins me now. Welcome to The Aussie Wire Krystle.
Krystle: Thanks very much, Topher.
Topher: Well, this is one of the best jobs of your life. Correct me if I’m wrong. You loved being a Victoria police officer. You were there for, I don’t remember. It was well over a decade, and you left with a great deal of regret. For those that don’t know your story, would you just quickly tell people what’s your background and your relationship with Victoria Police?
Krystle: So I was a police officer with Victoria Police for 16 years. I joined when I was 22 and I loved it. I was going to be a career police officer and retire happy, having served my community at, I don’t know, 65 maybe. Anyway, obviously we had the Pandemic. And in October 2021, I’d had enough of the totalitarian rule and the politicisation of Victoria Police and the way in which we were policing the Pandemic.
We were shooting at unarmed civilians. I was genuinely concerned that Victoria Police was either going to shoot a protester or a protester or some disgruntled angry citizen would take action against police. And I was very afraid that was going to happen. And I spoke out on Matt Wong’s “Discernible” show about what was happening, and I quit my job live in interview in protest.
Topher: It was an astonishing, and may I say, very brave act. It’s featured in the documentary “Battleground Melbourne”. And you can go to Matt Wong’s “Discernible” channel and you’ll find that interview as part of their back catalogue there.
That was a turning point for your life, certainly, but it seems that many other Victoria Police perhaps took a little longer to reach similar conclusions. But there now appears to be quite a serious staffing shortage, both because of people leaving and real difficulty replacing those people.
Krystle: Absolutely. The police force is absolutely haemorrhaging cops at the moment, not just here in Victoria, but in every state across this country and in other countries.
Interestingly, what I’ve noted, is that we’re losing police in areas that had very harsh lockdown rules. Not saying that’s the entire reason that police are leaving, but I certainly think that we have cops that are at the end of their rope.
All of the good cops left during the Pandemic. Obviously not a lot of them spoke up, which is unfortunate, but a lot left during the Pandemic because they didn’t want to police those laws. The cops that were left behind were left to pick up the pieces. They’re now dealing with a community that completely distrusts them. They’re overworked. They don’t have enough staff to attend the jobs that they’re getting. And when they do attend their jobs, they’re facing community citizens that don’t have any trust in their police forces anymore and they’re leaving en masse.
Topher: Well, someone that I know who works in corrections, they’re a correctional officer working in prisons, got very grumpy with me during the Pandemic when I dared to suggest the Victoria Police were damaging their relationship with the public, because of how they were policing. I would now go further, and it almost appears that Victoria Police have damaged their relationship with themselves.
Krystle: Definitely. And until we have a police leadership that acknowledges that they are responsible for the direction and the culture of the organisation that is causing these members to leave, it’s never going to change.
We’ve got police leaving en masse in New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland. WA has had 465 members resign, and that’s the highest number of resignations in history that they’ve had on bulk. 60% of Northern Territory police, in a survey in 2021 said that they were considering leaving.
You’ve got police shortages in San Diego, in Chicago, in New York. The only places, Topher, that we don’t have police leaving are in China, except maybe to come to Australia to police the citizens that have fled their country.
Topher: Let’s not go there. That’s a story for a different segment.
I’ve been reading a lot of commentary around this and there’s been a lot of suggestion that the causes of the staff shortages are around mental health. Sick days for officers, obviously officers leaving as well. PTSD to a certain degree because of some of what they’ve been asked to do.
I want to play a report from last year. This is not a new problem. We saw this coming. They’ve had a lot of time to adapt to this. I want to play a report from last year.
Recorded clip: More than 800 Victoria police officers are on extended leave, with the majority battling mental health issues. Work cover claims have spiked since the Pandemic, with around 4000 shifts per week now left unfilled. Victoria police say significant changes have already been made to improve support for current and former staff.
Topher: Well, Krystle, you’re one of those former staff that they’re talking about that they’ve improved the support for. How’s the support been for you since you’ve ceased being a police officer?
Krystle: Sorry, what support are we talking about? I’m not the only one Topher. I know many members that have been off on workcover for a number of different reasons. And the support that you receive is entirely dependent on the type of manager that you have. If you have a manager that cares about their staff, then you will have an engaged process. But the vast majority of those managers either don’t care or they are still those old school mentality where they see people who go off on work cover as weak or disinterested, disengaged. They’re just trying to get a free break. They don’t see it as a genuine need, that this person needs care. And quite often the warning signs are ignored.
So, you’ve got members that are going to their managers and they’re saying that they’re feeling burnt out, that they need a break, but there’s nowhere for them to go either.
Quite some time ago in the white paper that was delivered by Victoria Police, we saw a lot of policing roles civilianized and in part that that was due to you know, reducing the cost burden of managing a police force. But one of the negative consequences of that is that you don’t have places to put your police when they need a rest off the van because there isn’t space for them. There is nowhere else for them to go. It’s either work the van and be traumatised or go and be a detective and be overworked and be further traumatised or go somewhere else and be overworked. There isn’t an opportunity for these police officers to have a break.
Topher: Well, I’ll admit that this is a story that leaves me somewhat conflicted. I like the idea that I live in a country where if someone comes after me, attacks me, steals from me, what have you, I can call a phone number and people show up. On the other hand, of course, I was on the receiving end of so much of the poor behaviour from Victoria Police during COVID.
But just in closing, can we rewind to before COVID? You were in the police force for quite some time. You would have seen some significant changes.
I first became aware of what I would say is a concerning culture within Victoria Police under the leadership of Christine Nixon as the police commissioner. Now, I’m not saying that she’s the one who started it or caused it. That’s just when I noticed it. I would argue that the behaviour we saw from Victoria Police during COVID is a symptom. There must have been some problem dating back before then that allowed that behaviour to take place.
Do you have any commentary on what that might be?
Krystle: On the culture of Victoria Police prior to the pandemic, I would say that I wasn’t particularly aware of the direction that the organisation was going from a negative perspective. I was working in the most leftist, wokest part of the organisation, but I was working for a boss who treated me well, who treated the staff well, and I worked in a positive environment. That wasn’t a common thing to get in Victoria Police. So throughout my entire career, you would constantly be moving around trying to find the workplace that had the good bosses, that were going to take care of you. So certainly my experience in policing and I joined under Christine Nixon. She gave me my Freddy when I graduated from the academy.
My experiences very much were that you needed to be aware and careful of people that were higher up in the structure because they were looking for promotion. And invariably that promotion came with the suffering of the troops below them. And perhaps that’s the culture that was embedded there, that to climb up, you have to step on the people below you.
Topher: Well, that’s not exactly what you want with a police force, but unfortunately, it seems like it’s what we have, and the chickens are coming home to roost at the moment.
Krystle Mitchell, former Victoria police officer, thank you so much for your thoughts on what seems to be a nationwide, and as you pointed out, evening to some degree, a global problem with police recruiting. Thank you for coming on the Aussie wire.
You can watch this segment of The Aussie Wire News here.