Police act over staffing

THE police staffing crisis in Coffs Harbour, which overworked officers say can no longer be tolerated, is now the subject of industrial action.

The Coffs Harbour Branch of the Police Association of NSW has initiated a dispute with the NSW Police Force calling for more officers to be posted to the under-strength Coffs Clarence Local Area Command.

It claims the number of police allocated to the command has fallen drastically over the past two years, putting frontline officers at risk.

Reduced allocations,

combined with the number of officers on long-term sick leave has created a roster shortage, which is said to also affect police responses to crime in the local area.

The police force’s top brass denied allocations have been politicised by the State Government, amid speculation more resources are sent to marginal Labor seats.

A police spokesperson said resources were allocated by a range of factors including case loads, crime rates and trends, projected growths and issues specific to each LAC.

Police figures from April 2009 show there were 178 authorised police officers in the Coffs Clarence Command, but 207 officers on shift. Figures in January showed the authorised strength had fallen to 193, and the actual strength to 182.

Coffs Harbour Police Association branch official Brett Henderson-Smith said resources were at breaking point in Coffs Harbour, Sawtell, Bellingen and Woolgoolga.

He said this reduction and the number of police on long-term leave has resulted in 20% fewer operational general duties police on the Coffs Coast.

“These shortages have been ongoing and last year resulted in the closure of the Sawtell police station for four months whilst its officers were seconded to Coffs Harbour to prop up the Coffs roster,” Mr Henderson-Smith said.

“Continued shortages at Coffs Harbour have resulted in police from Sawtell, Bellingen, Woolgoolga and TAG (the Target Action Group) working general duties shifts at Coffs Harbour just to keep the doors open.

“The safety of police and the public in Coffs Harbour and surrounding areas is being risked as police are regularly attending violent situations with no available back-up if the situation deteriorates.

“All these factors indicate there is a significant staffing problem in Coffs Harbour and it’s time for a serious allocation of uniformed officers to fix the problem.”

The police association said it is considering further industrial action in a bid to maintain an acceptable level of police in Woolgoolga, Sawtell and Bellingen.

A police spokesman said the government in December announced 250 additional police positions, taking the overall strength of the NSW police force to 15,806.

A range of measures have also recently been introduced to resolve illness/injury issues and prevent workplace injury.

These include an independent medical expert panel, formed to assess officers; ability to return to work according to current Work Cover guidelines; a Safety Science training program to improve safety education and awareness; and a mandatory WellCheck program to monitor officers’ mental health.

“Long-term injuries and illness are part of policing in any jurisdiction and the NSW Police Force has taken proactive measures to care for its employees and their careers,” the spokesman said.



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