Bruce Thomas

Police staffing crisis

COFFS Harbour police officials have admitted the snowballing crisis affecting local officer numbers.

When The Advocate revealed last Friday that Sawtell station was about to become unmanned, the lid was lifted on a serious staffing issue that is impacting on serving officers and public confidence.

“It’s unfortunate the low police numbers in the Coffs Clarence Command are now at critical levels and that it has forced the closure of Sawtell Police Station to meet operational requirements at Coffs Harbour,” said the Police Association’s Coffs Harbour branch official, Brett Henderson-Smith.

“When you combine this with the temporary closure of Grafton Police Station for intermittent periods recently it demonstrates that police numbers for the command are way too low to provide the policing service that the community deserves.

“Our members are disappointed that it has come to this and we are making every attempt to continue providing quality policing services to the community despite the difficulties we face.”

Mr Henderson-Smith is concerned that adding resources into Coffs at the expense of outlying stations will not fix the problem.

“This is quite frankly robbing Peter to pay Paul and obviously the Government needs to commit more policing resources in the area and the community should be asking the Government how long they will allow this shortage to continue,” he said.

“The local community deserve to know they’ve got a fully resourced police force out on the streets protecting them. The bottom line is that we need more cops. Simple as that.”

Coffs Harbour MP Andrew Fraser said he had been contacted by numerous officers to say they were being pressured to do overtime shifts to cover gaps in rosters.

“I have been told there are 46 vacant shifts in the current six-week roster and there are 60 in the next roster,” Mr Fraser said.

“I am really worried that officers here aren’t getting the relief time they need.

“They are working 12 to 16 hour shifts and then not getting their rostered time off to spend with their families or just relaxing.”

Mr Fraser added that he had been told of cuts to programs which further undermine morale at the Coffs Harbour station.

“I’ve been told the bicycle squad, which has been one of the most successful community policing strategies we’ve had here, has been pulled back to a bare minimum and that the

TAG (tactical response group) has been virtually disbanded and officers put back into general duties,” he said.

The commander of the Coffs Clarence Local Area Command, Superintendent Mark Holahan, said the bike squad had not operated in Coffs Harbour for at least two years and that no positions were ever solely allocated to a bike squad.

“At the time it was formed it was a luxury we could afford,” Supt Holahan said.

“As to the TAG, a decision was made for police attached to TAG to be redeployed to first response commitments.

“The diversion of those resources will cease in the very near future.”

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