A police officer who spearheaded a project to help people with disability during the pandemic has been recognised with the 2021 Public Advocate's Ben Bodna Award for exceptional leadership in support of Victorians with a disability.
Inspector Chris Allen is among four recipients recognised in the Public Advocate's annual awards for outstanding police service to people with disability.
Now in its sixth year, the awards recognise the achievements of police officers and work units who provide an outstanding service to people with disability.
They include two awards for police stations nominated by Independent Third Persons (ITPs) – OPA volunteers who support people with disability during police interviews.
In lieu of an in-person ceremony usually held on the International Day of People with Disability (3 December), the awards were presented online by the Victorian Public Advocate, Colleen Pearce, on Thursday 17 March.
Dr Pearce said the awards tell an important story about Victorians with a disability who become involved with the criminal justice system and their first contact through the police.
"The human stories behind the awards are very moving and showcase police in an impressive light which gives a lot of confidence in the system and its evolution towards a more compassionate approach to people with a disability."
Proactive police support for people with a disability during the pandemic
Inspector Allen, while working at Fawkner Police Station in 2020, set out to host community forums between police and members of the disability community in Melbourne’s northwest to understand what issues mattered most to them.
When the pandemic forced him to change the face-to-face community sessions, Inspector Allen instead compiled a register of community members’ names and their contact details.
He assembled a team of 15 officers to regularly check in with almost 60 people across the Hume, Moreland and Moonee Valley areas to hear and address their safety concerns.
The team contacted the local council after hearing concerns about a lack of lighting in public areas that made people feel unsafe and arranged for protective services officers to patrol in and around the area.
Outstanding Police Service to People with Disability Award
Acting Senior Sergeant Kelly Christie from the Dandenong Prosecutions Unit was acknowledged for championing disability awareness in the workplace.
She supported a colleague with a vision impairment by arranging appropriate technology, adequate lighting and clear pathways to shared spaces following a review of the workplace set up.
Her dedication also saw her arranging for a university student from Cairns who has a disability to work in the unit as part of his studies, mentoring him throughout his placement.
Independent Third Person Program Awards
Melton and Horsham Police Stations were awarded for their use of the Independent Third Persons program to support people with disability through the police interview process.
Melton Police Station called on an ITP 55 times during the year.
ITP Kaye M, who nominated the station said that on almost every occasion that she had been an ITP over the past two years that she had found the police members at Melton to be caring and considerate towards the person they were dealing with.
They had transported a person home for safety reasons and, in the case of an ITP client with mental health issues, transported them to the nearest hospital to wait rather than make them wait in an interview room.
Horsham Police Station called on an ITP 80 times during the year.
In her nomination, ITP Sandra B said: “I have been at Horsham several times with a particular person with a complex mental health diagnosis. They often don’t understand why they are there. Police sit with them, take their time, never rush and the way they talk to them is always with patience and respect.”
2021 Certificates of Commendation for police work with Victorians with disability
- Inspector Adrian Richards, Workforce Relations Division and Co-chair of the Victoria Police Enablers Network
- For his efforts bringing disability to the forefront of the work of Victoria Police.
- Danielle Ford and Sarah Larsen, Media Communications and Engagement Department
- For their development of an accessibility hub on the Victoria Police Intranet site.
- Senior Constable Stewart McComb and Senior Constable Craig Davis, Transit Pro-Active Unit
- For their work with a person with disability with complex needs in the community.
- Forest Hill Proactive Policing Unit
- For its work with Ashwood and Heatherwood Schools, specialist schools for primary and secondary aged students with intellectual disability.
Victoria Police's Priority and Safer Communities Division Commander, Lisa Hardeman, said the Public Advocate Police Awards continue to be a fantastic way to acknowledge everyday examples of great police interactions with people with disability.
“Their work is inspiring and sets great examples of how we can better support both our colleagues and community members who have disability.”
More information about the awards and past recipients can be found on the Public Advocate's Police Awards page.