Protect and serve
We can make our front counters safer.
The design of police station front counters is still causing stress to staff nearly three years after members started officially complaining to Police about it. Better design of new stations and retro-fitting of some stations are needed, according to the Police Association, which has made several recommendations to Police.
At this year’s Police Association Annual Conference, award-winning Crime Prevention through Environmental Design practitioner Frank Stoks (pictured) spoke about how our police stations should and could be made safer.
Dr Stoks said there were many threats in police stations, such as disorderly behaviour, being spat at, acid attacks, suspicious packages, firearms and other weapons.
It was not fanciful to think that these things would happen – he cited the shootings at two police stations in Palmerston North earlier this year – and employers had obligations to use “exemplary practice” to counter such threats.
There were mandates to minimise risks at work, such as the Government Protective Security Requirement, the State Sector Act, the Building Act and the new Health and Safety at Work Act, he said.
Dr Stoks emphasised the need for “security by design”. “The theme of this conference is ‘In the Firing Line’. It seems obvious that one of the things you want to do is take staff ‘out of the firing line’ and we can do that with design, but both the clients and the architects and designers need to be both mindful and persuaded to do that right at the outset.”
In reality, there was a spectrum of safety in the public and private sectors. Trading banks, for example, did very little these days, but services such as bureaux de change and airlines were at the “exemplary” end of the spectrum.
“We know that in the courts, you cannot get in, as a member of the public, without being frisked and searched and having your bags looked at. There are good reasons for that. If you see what they actually seize in a year, it’s phenomenal – there are boxes of serious weapons, including firearms,” he said.
“A lot of those people, who are your customers as well, actually keep a firearm or a knife on them. It’s street kit.”
There were credible risks at all police stations, be they large or small, and, as such, security design should be consistent. “Why should a person in a small rural station have any less protection as an individual than somebody in a large station? The consequences – death – are the same,” he said.
Dr Stoks used the analogy of a three- legged stool, with the legs representing technology, design and management strategy. “They are all connected at the top. If you take away one leg, the stool will fall over.”
He suggested a few ways that design could help with security, such as ensuring good visibility of visitors, good lighting and area access barriers. He noted that too many police stations had unsecure doors, especially back doors. It was also important to have controls between the reception waiting area and the back office. “I’ve seen police stations where the public can come into the main waiting area and then walk past the counter into the main office.”
A priority for reception areas was ensuring that people couldn’t jump over the counters and enter the staff area. A minimum height of 1150 centimetres was recommended, with no ledges or loose chairs or furniture in the waiting area.
Protecting against firearms was difficult, but not impossible, he said. If staff were able to “triage” the area first, that was a good start, along with ensuring there was a safe drop space behind a firearms-resistant barrier and a rapid exit path.
Dr Stoks warned against using pin locks on doors. “If you are in a hurry, it can take several seconds to open a door and then it’s too late.”
Wires were popular in reception areas, but they didn’t work, he said. Ballistic glass was not very friendly, or sensible as it needed to be very thick. Even then, it was only resistant. Concrete or sheet steel below the counter were other options. “There’s a whole bunch of things we could be doing at our counters if someone gave us the go-ahead and we trained staff how to use it,” he said.
Dr Stoks said progress in the area of security design had been slow because it had fallen victim to two competing forces – marketing pressures and operational pressures. On one side was the service ethic of openness, which had “chipped away at the public service in the past 15 years”, and on the other was reasonable operational practicality for staff.
“We need, with careful design, to make those two forces converge. It is still possible to give really good service and still have practical operational safety and security.”
The Police Association understands that the Police national manager: employee wellness and safety is putting a report and recommendations to the Police executive on the issue.
Above: Palmerston North Station after a recent shooting shattered glass of the entrance doors.
Phew, that was close...
Although most employees will report an injury or damage to property while at work, they aren’t as good at reporting “near misses”.
However, just because “nothing happened” or “it wasn’t that serious”, doesn’t mean employers and managers don’t need to know.
A “near miss” can be a warning sign that something is not right and by reporting it, you might be able to prevent a more serious incident happening.
Studies into workplace incidents show that often before a serious injury occurs there have been several near misses that have either gone unreported or not been investigated. The results of these studies are represented with the Heinrich triangle (pictured below). The triangle illustrates how for every major incident there are normally several minor injuries or near misses, and many preceding unsafe acts and conditions.
Police Association senior industrial officer Amanda Craig says it’s important to remember that a “near miss” is a warning that should be taken seriously. “This means it is worth making a report. The ‘why’ and ‘how’ of the incident can be investigated and controls put in place so a more serious injury is prevented. Otherwise, the opportunity is lost,” she says.
“It’s really easy to blame an individual for a ‘near miss’, but often there needs to be a change in the work environment, such as a process, equipment or communication to avoid the same thing happening again. And that can’t happen unless the near miss is reported.”
The whole point of reporting near misses is to make the workplace safer and to protect staff, she says. Appropriate changes can be made and control measures can be put in place before more serious harm occurs.
You can report a near miss by filling out a Pol 645 form, which can be found on the Police intranet in the PeopleSoft system. You can click on the link on the bottom of the front page. Or you can fill out a “Hazard Notification Form” which is also found in the PeopleSoft system.