Gagged: local police told to shut up

By KUE DAVIS

UNDER-STRENGTH local police officers have been gagged by their commanders from speaking to the media amid fears that budgetary constraints and low staffing numbers are putting community safety at risk.

Following the articles in last week's Advocate, we received numerous calls and letters describing a dire situation within the Coffs/Clarence command.

According to sources close to police, the low number of staff in the Coffs/Clarence command means that stations are often left unattended and streets unpatrolled, putting at risk the safety of both police and the community.

However, acting Coffs/Clarence local area police commander, Tony Ferguson, has refuted claims there is a staff shortage and labelled information from sources 'incorrect'.

Sources close to police have said claims by the department that they are over strength are misleading.

"On paper, the command is over strength," one source said.

"But if you take into account the people on sick leave, you get a very different story."

One source claimed that the number of detectives in the region was supposed to be 10 while it was only six.

They then said of this six, five were on sick leave waiting to be discharged.

Mr Ferguson denied the claim.

"That is completely incorrect. Our detective's numbers are at full strength," he said.

The lack of highway patrol police was also raised as a concern, with sources saying that some days there is just one patrol car to police the area from Urunga to Halfway Creek after 1am.

Mr Ferguson said highway patrol strength is at the highest it has ever been, and that placements were decided by an intelligence based policy that takes into account aspects such as the time of year and statewide targets.

Furthermore, sources claim that numbers were so low throughout the command that if an officer called in sick, there is often a major problem replacing them.

"Sometimes staff are brought out from one of the out stations then that out station remains unattended until the next rostered shift. Sometimes staff are asked to work overtime which means 15-hour straight shifts," one source said.

When asked whether the police had been told not to approach the media regarding the issue, Mr Ferguson explained that 'staff were sent a memo reminding them of the NSW police media policy'.

He said that the command was over strength.

"If the government said they would give us 100 more positions, then I would take 100 more positions. We've only got a certain amount of police in NSW, and we're over strength," he said.

In regards to budget constraints, Mr Ferguson explained that every government department has a budget and it was up to them to spend the money responsibly.

Minister for Police, David Campbell, is standing by Mr Ferguson.

"I support the local area commander who has addressed this issue publicly and has stated that there is not an issue with police numbers in the region," he said.

A spokesperson for the NSW Police Association said they have received reports from members that there are shortages in the region and they are in the process of investigating the issue.



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