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Victoria Police in danger of fixing ‘wrong problem’

Victoria Police are in danger of fixing the ‘wrong problem’ in the wake of the damning Bourke Street Massacre report released last week. Official responses to a critical incident review released by Coroner Jacqui Hawkins appeared to focus on policies and procedures relating to handling an incident while ignoring the factors underlying key failures.

The Bourke Street massacre was a tragic event and we extend our condolences to the family and friends of those who lost their lives and whose lives were changed forever. We owe it to them to learn the right lessons from the incident. It’s not as simple as how an incident is handled, it is a matter of why police officers act, or don’t act, in a certain way.

Line after line after line in the report just screams ‘psychological safety’ and it is clear the psychological safety within Victoria Police is dangerously low. Psychological safety in the workplace is low when people don’t speak up and speak out and fear being punished when they do.

Psychological safety is very low when people don’t feel safe to take risks, when people don’t challenge decisions they don’t agree with, when there is fear of recrimination, where people don’t feel confident to make decisions or don’t feel confident they will be supported by management.

Low psychological safety narrows our perspectives and can result in tunnel vision and a lack of agility in decision making. Under these conditions people make mistakes, are indecisive, stay silent and are risk averse. That’s exactly what the Fontana Report describes, which points to a real crisis of psychological safety levels within Victoria Police and a need to urgently address this.

Examples from the report that indicate poor psychological safety include:

  • Uncertainty about repercussions of a perceived breach of policy led to officers being extremely risk-adverse about engaging in pursuits
  • Failure to speak up and speak out for fear of offending up the chain of command
  • Once a concern was raised it was not acted upon
  • A lack of confidence management would support officers in taking decisive action
  • Concerns that were raised weren’t acted upon that may have led to an earlier arrest
  • Police pursuing Gargasoulas as he drove across the city were described as having tunnel vision despite the dynamically changing situation
  • A clear lack of effective leadership, ownership, thought and planning given to locate Gargasolous
  • Poor communication sharing – described by Mr Fontana as being almost non-existent – their silence was deafening


One Response

  1. This is such important commentary Linda and begs the question, how many other organisations are also blind to the low level of psychological safety in their workplaces? I fear the answer is “too many.”

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