POLICE were apparently unable to respond to a potentially life-threatening emergency over the weekend due to a lack of officers and the closure of the Sawtell Police Station.
Sources have revealed the parents of a Sawtell teenager threatening suicide on Saturday were told due to a lack of on-duty officers, police could not conduct an immediate search for their son.
It’s also understood the single general duties crew covering Bellingen, Dorrigo and Coffs Harbour was unable to respond because it was tending to another out-of-town emergency.
The incident coincided with the first rostered days of the Sawtell Police Station being unmanned.
Today, the matter will be brought to the attention of the State Government when Coffs Harbour MP Andrew Fraser also tables a petition of 2000 signatures opposing the station’s closure.
“We know there are 60 vacant slots in the Coffs Clarence Command’s roster and because of this police are not able to attend some emergencies,” Mr Fraser said.
“Just one police car patrols the whole southern end of the command while another is used to police the northern end. This lack of police only increases the stress and strain on the officers who are being forced to make life-threatening decisions.”
Police figures show the Coffs Clarence Command has lost 22 officers over 10 months.
In April last year there were 207 officers in the command, while in February there were just 185 actual police.
These figures support claims by the NSW Police Association that the command is severely understaffed.
“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,” Police Association’s Coffs Harbour branch official Brett Henderson-Smith said.
“The police association believes Coffs Harbour is in need of 12 additional officers while a further seven or eight are needed in Grafton.
“Staffing levels have not been kept up in line with population increases in the region.”
A breakdown of figures shows in Sydney, there is one police officer per 500 people. In regional areas like Coffs Harbour, it’s one in 700 people.
This is despite the latest crime figures released yesterday showing robbery and malicious damage crime has risen by a combined 34 per cent in the region.
The petition against the Sawtell station closure was created by local high school students Kiara Greenway and Grace Hayward.
They’re concerned about the station’s closure because they say they’ve seen anti-social behaviour rise.