BY SHONA LOUIS
Temporary police station closures to curb the spread of coronavirus will jeopardise police support to local communities, a Victoria Police sergeant has warned.
Ringwood Police Station became the first to temporarily shut its doors to undergo professional cleaning, after an officer tested positive for COVID-19 last week.
The Victoria Police sergeant, who did not want to be named, said a single officer contracting COVID-19 could simultaneously impact operations of two or three stations, including - but not limited to - cancelled shifts.
A Victoria Police Association spokesperson said police stations will not be completely vulnerable to the spread of the virus.
“Victoria Police is separated into regions, meaning if one station is forced to close for a time, resources can temporarily be drawn from neighbouring stations to help fill the void,” the spokesperson said.
The unnamed sergeant, responsible for the health and safety of his station’s officers, often sends officers to neighbouring stations within his region as part of a daily routine.
A new task force of 500 officers titled Operation Sentinel is set to enforce shutdown measures and conduct quarantine checks on those in self-isolation.
The sergeant said the work of general duties officers, despite not being required to conduct self-isolation checks, involves an unavoidable “hands-on” nature that risks breaching social distancing requirements.
Daily duties include attending call-outs to healthcare settings such as ambulances and hospitals.
“Given the frequency with which our members interact with the public, it is vital they are equipped with personal protective equipment to ensure they have the capacity to protect themselves from contracting the disease,” the police union spokesperson said.
The sergeant confirmed his station has been provided with gloves, masks, sanitary wipes and hand sanitiser.
However, he said wearing gloves and masks will not save officers from the virus.
Booze and drug buses operations have been suspended amid pressure from the police union over unease for police safety and that of the public.
The Police Association spokesperson said its main concern is officers' health and wellbeing.
“[They] cannot adopt the same isolation measures as much of the wider public, given the critical nature of the service they provide,” the spokesperson said.
A statement issued by Victoria Police confirmed the safety of its employees is the organisation's “highest priority”.
“We know our people are not immune to [COVID-19], same as everyone else around the world,” the statement read.
Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton has said police will continue to conduct mobile roadside drug and alcohol testing “wearing only part [Personal Protective Equipment], not full PPE”.