2019 Public Advocate police awards
3 December 2019
Overcoming communication barriers was a common theme among winners of the 2019 Public Advocate Awards for Outstanding Services to People with Disability.
The awards were presented by Deputy Public Advocate John Chesterman to employees and members of Victoria Police on Tuesday, 3 December, International Day for People with Disability.
Ben Bodna Award
The Ben Bodna Award recognises exceptional leadership in support of Victorian’s with a disability.
The 2019 Ben Bodna Award was presented to Victoria Police’s Disability Portfolio’s Priority Communities Team.
The Victoria Police Priority Communities Division, which includes representatives of peak disability bodies and community organisations, meets quarterly to provide advice, expertise and feedback to assist Victoria Police in their engagement with diverse communities.
The Disability Portfolio’s Priority Communities Team has provided invaluable leadership and support for programs that have led to improved communications between police members and people with disability.
This includes championing the program that saw two Victoria police stations, Box Hill and Geelong, achieve Scope Communication Access accreditation.
Victoria Police has also launched a new website with significantly improved accessibility including tools enabling users to translate pages into more than 80 languages, alter text and colours and insert a disability ruler, and listen to an audi version of each page among other features.
Pictured (from left): Disability Portfolio Acting Commander Murray Fraser, Priority Communities Manager Olivia Petty, Deputy Public Advocate John Chesterman.
Outstanding service to people with disability
Police nominated award - Senior Constable Tamara Olley
Senior Constable Tamara Olley conducts a ‘Coffee with a Cop’ program at the Watergardens shopping centre.
This program provides community members the opportunity, in a more relaxed and informal setting than a police station, to sit down and talk through issues, with or ask question of, a local police officer.
Senior Constable Olley, who herself can sign Auslan and utilises this skill to increase community connectedness identified that some deaf people, who otherwise may rely on family members to facilitate communication, may not be as comfortable in doing so when talking to a police officer, particularly where the query may be of a personalised nature.
To remedy this situation and to increase the inclusion for this cohort of the community, Senior Constable Olley sought and was granted approval for the engagement of two Auslan qualified interpreters from xpression Australia.
The reception was very positive from the community and the Auslan Interpreters themselves. Watergardens centre management were also highly supportive, with the intention being to conduct further, similar sessions.
Community nominated award - Detective Senior Constable Eric Forcey
Detective Senior Constable Forcey was nominated by Office of the Disability Services Commissioner for hiscompassionate and person-centred approach investigating an alleged sexual assault of a person with disability.
The alleged victim in this matter was non-verbal and communication was a significant impediment.
The lengths Detective Senior Constable Forcey went to in order to communicate with the victim were exemplary. He personally visited and spoke with the victim, the victim’s family, the victims support workers and engaged with a speech pathologist.
The thoroughness of the investigation and his caring and personable approach to a vulnerable victim were readily apparent.
The difficulties with these types of investigations is the inability to obtain an account from a victim. Often investigators simply make a decision that the person in not able to communicate and due to their disability will lack credibility. This certainly was not the attitude of Detective Senior Constable Forcey, a fact that was not lost on the victim’s family.
Pictured (from left): Detective Senior Constable Eric Forcey, Deputy Disability Services Commissioner Samantha Dooley, Deputy Public Advocate John Chesterman
|Leading Senior Constable Liam McGuire for his proactive and innovative work building rapport with a person with complex needs who had previously been fearful of and violent towards authority figures, reducing the risk of assault to the public and police members.|
Sergeant Zac Bull for his work supporting students at the Swan Hill Specialist School, and their families, and passion and commitment for building and enhancing relationships between Victoria Police and at-risk youth with disability.
|Constable Efendic Nerdin for his proactive and positive interaction with a young man having an autistic meltdown that not only resolved the situation but completely changed the young man’s attitude towards police.|
|Inspector Andy McDowell and Laura Chipp on behalf of the Prosecutions Court Branch for their work with the Australian Network on Disability to create meaningful paid internships for students with disability in the legal services department. Due to the success of this program, it will now be continued on a permanent basis.|
|Geelong and Box Hill Police Stations for the positive and enthusiastic commitment of members, over the past two years, to increase skills, knowledge and confidence in interacting with people with communication difficulties and achieve the Scope Communication Access Symbol.|
Independent Third Person Program awards
Police interviews are stressful and require people to comprehend complex issues, demonstrate that they can understand their rights and are able to communicate sufficiently to be interviewed.
ITP volunteers attend police interviews to support people with a cognitive impairment and/or mental illness, whether they be an alleged offender, victim or witness.
They facilitate communication between the person being interviewed and police member.
These awards recognise members of Victoria Police who demonstrate the ideals of the ITP program, and have gone above and beyond in ensuring people with disability are not disadvantaged during police interviews.
Metropolitan police station - Sunshine
ITP volunteers who nominated Sunshine Police Station say Sunshine police members work way beyond their duties in order to ensure safety and security to the alleged offenders, their families and the OPA and Justice representatives attending.
They report that police
members are welcoming and appreciative of ITPs.
And one made particular mention of situation where an informant displayed great patience and skill, simplifying the preamble and questioning of an alleged offender.
Pictured: Sergeant David Coley with Deputy Public Advocate John Chesterman.
Regional police station - Geelong
The ITP volunteers who nominated Geelong Police Station say they are impressed by the polite and respectful way people with disabilities are treated, not only by the police members but also the custody officers.
They say police members are consistent with their processes and don’t take shortcuts.
The ITPs say there are treated as a valuable member of the interview process and their feedback is usually well received.
Pictured (from left): Acting Sergeant Shannon Thompson, ITP Susan Carion, Deputy Public Advocate John Chesterman.