Snr Const Mal Sutherland outside the Ballina police station's holding cell area, which can only hold one offender at a time.
Snr Const Mal Sutherland outside the Ballina police station's holding cell area, which can only hold one offender at a time. Brenden Allen

Ballina police lock-up is shut down

CONTROLLING drunks and criminals is hard enough, but it is even tougher for Ballina police officers like Mal Sutherland, who have to do it under dangerous conditions and while poorly equipped.

Police in Ballina have been forced to shut down their charge room because the facilities at their station are ill-equipped and unsafe to hold prisoners.

Officers now have to travel all the way to Lismore or Byron Bay to use the facilities at those police stations to charge offenders

Senior Constable Sutherland, chair of the Ballina branch of the NSW Police Association, said it was an 'absolute disgrace'.

He said about $500,000 was needed to upgrade the charge room at Ballina police station.

However, Snr Const Sutherland said the NSW Police Association had been told the State Government would not provide any funding to fix the charge room problem in the coming financial year.

"It has put police at risk for too long," he said. "The charge room - used for violent and agitated offenders - has none of the standard safety features that are needed to protect police.

"It's common for us to have four or five intoxicated offenders in custody at the one time on a Friday or Saturday night.

"But the charge room can only hold one offender and when suspects become violent, police are at risk of injury because there simply isn't enough room to get out of the way."

Snr Const Sutherland said the time it took to transport offenders to neighbouring stations also had a negative impact on the broader community. It meant officers who would otherwise be patrolling Ballina were often out of the area for about an hour at a time.

"This is completely unacceptable and must be fixed now," he said. "It is making it hard for us to do our jobs properly and is not fair on the community."

Snr Const Sutherland said there were also plenty of other problems at the station.

He said raw sewage had been overflowing in the van dock this week, a result of particularly high tides in the nearby Richmond River.

The door to the dock was also so rusted it couldn't be closed, and proper security measures in the dock were not in place.

NSW Police Minister David Campbell said upgrades for the Ballina police station, including the van dock and additional CCTV cameras, had been put to tender. However, this did not include the charge room, he said.

"The tender has closed and been evaluated and a recommendation has been put forward to engage the preferred contractor," the Minister said.

"Once that approval has been confirmed, works will commence and are expected to be completed by mid-2008 at a cost of around $40,000."

John Morgan, an organiser for the Northern Region Police Association, said it was disappointing no funds had been allocated to upgrade the charge room. "All we can do now is keep pushing for it and hope something gets done," he said.


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