Region dudded on police numbers
WHILE calls for greater police numbers have been going on for years, a breakdown of recent allocations shows North Coast police commands are being grossly deprived of staff.
Of the 844 new officers deployed across NSW in three allocations since December, just 11 officers have been sent to police commands in Richmond, Tweed/Byron and Coffs/Clarence.
Despite being the fastest-growing region in NSW with a huge annual tourist influx, the three North Coast commands in safe National seats are deprived, while the lion's share of the allocations to the Northern Region – from the Hawkesbury to the Tweed – flow to commands in the State Labor strongholds surrounding Newcastle and the Central Coast.
Of the 57 officers allocated across the Northern Region since December, 46 were deployed south of Coffs Harbour.
The data shows the North Coast commands are receiving the bad end of an already raw deal for regional NSW.
While about 64 per cent of the State's population resides in the Sydney area, about 36 per cent live in country or regional centres, yet they have received only 23 per cent of new police recruits since December.
Lismore MP Thomas George said it had been clear for some time the North Coast has not been getting its fair share of police resources.
“This is the fastest growing region in the State, even by the Government's own reckoning. I don't see how they can justify it,” he said.
“If electorates are being penalised by who represents them, then that's a disgrace.”
As stress leave continues to impact heavily on North Coast commands, the region's State MPs say the problems are compounding.
Clarence MP Steve Cansdell said there needed to be a complete review of the police resources allocation model, which was based on ‘authorised strength' and did not account for things like stress leave.
The NSW Police Association estimates stress leave is as high as 20 per cent on the North Coast.
“The problem with stress leave in the country is if one or two officers go off [sick], it puts much greater stress on the remaining officers, who don't want to let their workmates down,” Mr Cansdell said.
“The biggest issue in country NSW is the number of police on theground.
“We need to look at things like utilising retired police for station duty when numbers are down – which is something I'll be looking at if we get into government next year.
“I talk to city police who commonly arrive at incidents where there are police from two or three otherstations. That's a problem we'd love up here.”
When Deputy Commissioner Dave Owens was in Lismore in April he told The Northern Star Richmond and Tweed/Byron commands were both operating ‘above authorised strength'.
A spokesman for the deputy commissioner confirmed this again yesterday, saying graduating officers were allocated after consultation with regional commanders, based on workloads and demands.
“The deputy commissioner has to act in the interest of the state-wide allocation,” the spokesman said.
He added a mega class of 634 officers was expected to graduate from the academy in December – just ahead of the State election – and they would be allocated to local area commands accordingly, but he could not say how many were earmarked for the North Coast.
Ballina MP Don Page raised the issue in 2008 in a written submission – on behalf of the five North Coast electorates affected – with the Northern Region commander Assistant-Commissioner Lee Shearer, but little has changed.
In the submission he also raised the issue of the North Coast having the highest incidence of mental illness and the fact even then the region had one officer to every 700 people, compared with the State average of one to 500.
NSW Police Association's Northern Region executive member, Detective Sergeant Tony King, said recent new recruits coming into the region were merely filling existing vacancies and creating new positions to cope with the growth.
“Increases in police numbers will occur in December and it is essential we receive our fair share,” he said.
“We require a system where these increased police numbers coming in December are allocated to areas of greatest need, based on objective criteria of workload and crime rates without political interference.”
NSW POLICE ALLOCATIONS SINCE DECEMBER 2009
City local area commands (64% of pop): 685
Country local area commands (36% of pop.): 159
Northern Region (Hawkesbury to Tweed): 57
Tweed-Byron, Richmond, Coffs/Clarence: 11