Stretched to the limit
By CRAIG McTEAR
THE thin blue line in Coffs Harbour is pretty thin indeed.
The Advocate has learned Coffs Harbour Police Station staffing levels are down across all departments, due mostly to high levels of long-term sick leave.
This, according to one source, is placing additional pressure on the remaining officers struggling under enormous workloads, with little or no support from police hierarchy.
Not surprisingly, morale is plummeting at the same time stress is spiralling.
It is understood the Coffs/ Clarence Local Area Command, which also takes in the Clarence Valley, has the highest number of troops (at least 35) on long-term sick leave in northern NSW.
"That's disgusting," the source said.
The Police Association contends the command is down only 18 officers, but insists an increase in the overall 'authorised strength' is vital.
The Coffs Harbour highway patrol office exemplifies the crisis.
This section has not had its 'authorised strength' of 10 increased for the past 20 years, but the city has probably doubled in size since.
At the moment, only five highway patrol constables are available for duties, but one of them is confined to the office as a fill-in supervisor.
The predicament is worsened when someone goes down sick.
"They can't cover a full seven days. They're really only patrolling for three or four days," the source said.
"Resources are so sparse they won't be able to cover the entire patrol. It's getting to the point where you are seeing less police on the roads.
"They are trying to reduce road trauma, but they can't do that with the resources they have.
"The RTA brought over inspectors from the New England Highway since B-doubles have been allowed back on the Pacific Highway, but there has been no increase in highway patrol numbers here.
"Highway officers are working long shifts, with no weekends off to spend with their families. More officers should be sent up here to help in the short term.
"Long term, what is really needed is an increase of at least four in highway patrol authorised strength."
NSW Police Association president, Bob Pritchard, said yesterday that during a recent visit here, he had talked to senior police about Coffs/Clarence staffing levels.
"If the 18 come back, or they're replaced, that will obviously bring them back to the authorised strength, but what we need is additional strength to cover the growing population and increasing crime trends," Mr Pritchard said.
He added Coffs/Clarence would be considered if the State Government moved to boost authorised strengths throughout NSW.
Coffs/Clarence local area commander, Superintendent Peter Barrie, said late yesterday he was not in a position to comment on the claims or local staffing levels.
Northern region police chief, Assistant Commissioner Peter Parsons, could not be reached for comment at the time of going to press.