Research reports

Transit Protective Services Officers - An exploration of corruption and misconduct risks

Since 2011, transit Protective Services Officers (PSOs) have been employed by Victoria Police to patrol metropolitan and major regional railway stations. Their functions include maintaining a visible presence on train stations and surrounding areas, engaging with the community and fostering a sense of safety. They exercise a range of powers including the power to arrest and detain people, to request personal information, and to search people and property.

This report reviews complaint and use of force data relating to transit PSOs. IBAC identified three key areas of risk in relation to PSO conduct:

  • assault and excessive use of force
  • unauthorised access to and/or disclosure of information
  • predatory behaviour involving members of the public.

Engagement with the public is fundamental to the role of PSOs. This includes dealing with people who are vulnerable, for instance because they are minors, have alcohol and/or drug dependencies, are homeless, and/or have a disability or mental health issues. PSOs who have well developed communication and conflict resolution skills are less likely to be the subject of complaints, such as allegations of assault or excessive force, or unlawful requests for information. IBAC therefore recommends that Victoria Police provides PSOs with ongoing communication and engagement training.

The report also identifies that some members of the Victorian community may not fully understand the role of PSOs and the extent of their powers, which has the potential to lead to conflict with PSOs and therefore complaints. IBAC recommends that Victoria Police takes steps to ensure the public better understands the role and powers of PSOs.

This report does not consider the effectiveness of the PSOs in fulfilling their functions. However, it is noted that in 2016, the Victorian Auditor-General’s Office conducted an audit of the effectiveness of the PSO program and found that while there is evidence that people who travel on trains at night feel safer due to PSOs, there is insufficient data to assess the impact, if any, that PSOs have had on crime rates.