Tony King.
Tony King.

Police OT worst in State

COFFS Harbour and Grafton region has been identified as having the largest bill for overtime of any of the State's police commands for the 2009-2010 financial year, but things may be about to improve.

Officers in the Coffs/Clarence Local Area Command clocked up 7166 hours of overtime last year at a cost of $388,000, an average cost of just over $54 an hour.

But Superintendent Mark Holahan says Coffs Harbour has seen a steady reduction in overtime worked by police in the past couple of months.

“I hope that will continue,” the Coffs/Clarence Local Area Command Superintendent said.

“We are starting to punch our way through the figures and we are starting to see a lot more new faces in the Coffs Harbour station.

“Coffs Harbour is getting three new general duties police on May 17 and there are more to come in June.

“We received four (new officers) in January and two of those went to Coffs Harbour; we have six extra detectives in Coffs and there are another two detectives to come in January (2012).”

Mr Holahan said the overtime problem in the command was not due to short-term sick leave issues, with local figures there ‘pretty good' but to operational capacity issues related to the long-term sick list.

Staff on this list are officially listed as part of the strength of the local police force but are not able to be replaced until they either leave work permanently or are rehabilitated back into the workforce.

Mr Holahan said Coffs/Clarence LAC had an older demographic than most other commands and undoubtedly people had moved to the North Coast because of its very good lifestyle.

Six of the 10 commands with the highest number of overtime hours in 2009/10 are coastal commands, with Tweed/Byron, Richmond, Shoalhaven, Far South Coast and Newcastle all in the top 10.

All 10 are regional commands with Barrier LAC, based at Broken Hill; Oxley LAC based at Tamworth and Orana LAC, based on Dubbo chasing Coffs Clarence in the overtime list.

Tony King, the northern region executive member of the NSW Police Association, who works at Grafton, is also optimistic about the way ahead, following a meeting on Wednesday between the new NSW Police Minister, Mike Gallacher, and the NSW Police Association, which he attended and which he described as “a huge step in the right direction”.

Mr King said the top 10 overtime statistics highlighted that these commands had been understaffed and neglected for many years in the allocation of police numbers.

He said Mr Gallacher had committed to an audit of police numbers and to a police allocation model which gave a fair and equitable distribution of police around the State based on workload and on other factors such as distance.

He said the Police Association had been calling for an allocation model for some time, as none currently existed.

He said local police saw less of the good lifestyle than they did of the problems that plague the area, which has all the usual ills of regions with low socio-economic status, low wages and high unemployment.

Country commands had no extra staff they could move into frontline response without sacrificing other services, and officers from outlying stations were being dragged in to prop up Coffs Harbour and Grafton stations.

Block rostering, in which police work four 12-hour shifts and then have six days off, has been criticised for exacerbating the manpower shortage, with Dr Michael Kennedy, a former detective who lectures on policing at the University of Western Sydney, saying it encouraged police to ‘moonlight' and work two jobs.

Mr King disagrees. He said police on block rosters worked exactly the same number of hours as those on eight-hour rosters, 228 hours in six weeks, but allowed police to relax and recuperate between shifts, made long travel times from home to work more attractive and generally gave police a better work-life balance.

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