Thin blue line thinner
By RENEE REDMOND
Police struggle to keep smalltowns safe with lack of officers
POLICE are struggling to maintain a presence in small communities such as Nimbin in the face of a critical shortage of officers in the region, State Lismore MP Thomas George has said.
Mr George's comments have been backed by Richmond Local Area Commander, Superintendent Bruce Lyons, who said he was concerned at the number of police being pulled from outlying stations, such as Nimbin, Woodburn, Coraki and Evans Head, when there was a shortfall in larger centres.
"It is important we try and leave these officers to police their communities," Supt Lyons said.
Supt Lyons said the shortage of officers was related to a high number of personnel on long-term sick leave due to injury and staff on restricted duties.
Mr George last week told the NSW Parliament that Richmond LAC numbers were down 20 per cent.
He said a total of 34 officers were unavailable for service, with 20 on long-term sick leave, seven on restricted duties and seven vacancies.
Supt Lyons said half of the sick leave positions had been filled and officers employed for the seven vacancies would start within the next two months.
Two positions in Tabulam and one in Nimbin would be filled and a new crime coordinator was expected to be announced next month.
"Unfortunately, day-to-day policing is dangerous and police are faced with many situations where they can be assaulted and exposed to life-threatening situations," Supt Lyons said.
"In our command the majority of officers have more than 15 years' experience, but older police are more susceptible to injury and illness."
Assistant Commissioner for Police Peter Parsons yesterday said long-term sick leave and population growth were the two major issues faced by Northern Region commands.
"Police on sick report cannot be replaced until they make a decision to either remove themselves from the force or return to work," Asst Commissioner Parsons said.
"The Richmond LAC has an inordinately high amount of staff on sick report. We need to get those people back to work.
"The North Coast also has an exploding population. I am pushing for a proper internal analysis of the Northern Region to determine if we have enough police numbers and how we will deal with the population increase."
Supt Lyons said the provision of new staff for the Richmond LAC followed talks with NSW Police Commissioner Ken Moroney and continued pressure for increased police numbers from local mayors and MPs Thomas George, Don Page and Steve Cansdell.
Yesterday, a spokesperson for Police Minister Carl Scully said more than 300 police officers would graduate next week to join the 80 NSW police commands.