Officers attached to the Riverina Police District are being stretched to breaking point as a result of the NSW Government’s refusal to fill the region’s 13 ‘ghost cop’ positions, the Police Association of NSW has claimed.
In a statement, PANSW said 'ghost cops' referred to stations where police numbers were allocated but officers have not been assigned.
Ben Buffett, PANSW southern region organiser, said the unfilled positions were leaving the Riverina’s residents vulnerable.
“We are putting undue pressure on frontline police and hampering their ability to protect the local community,” Mr Buffett said.
“Almost 900 local policing positions across the state are currently being left unfilled, with the officers transferred to other vital policing areas.
He said a number of specialists teams and vital roles created in the past “such as units that look after gang and gun crimes, sex crimes and domestic violence” no longer exist.
“They’ve had to pull those resources, particularly from Sydney metropolitan regions, which leads vacancies that have flow-on effects to regional areas because there are no officers available to transfer here,” he said.
We are putting undue pressure on frontline police and hampering their ability to protect the local community,Ben Buffett, PANSW southern region organiser
Mr Buffett called on the State Government to “urgently commit to not just addressing the backlog in our region, but to building the state’s policing capacity”.
He and Roger Campton, executive member for the PANSW southern region, visited Wagga on September 3 to attend a branch meeting and to campaign the issue to the byelection candidates.
“We’re here to seek support from all the political [byelection] candidates for our campaign for an initial 2500 police officers across the state,” Mr Buffett said.
While he said he had not yet spoken to Riverina community members about the issue, he believed extra resources would provide a safer community.
“They [police officers] have an interest in keeping the community safe and they should be able to do by having the resources they need to do it now and into the future,” Mr Buffett said.
The PANSW said its Wagga branch strongly supported additional police resources across the RPD to meet growing community requirements.
Public safety the top priority: NSW Government and NSW Police
In response, both the government and NSW Police said public safety and provision of resources were atop their priorities.
In a statement, police said NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller had tasked each of the deputy commissioners with “undertaking an extensive strategic plan focusing on maintaining a strong response to crime and improving the force’s ability to disrupt and prevent crime”.
“Public safety is a priority for NSW Police and this body of work will ensure we grow the organisation to continue dealing with current and emerging crime,” the statement reads.
“Specialist squads tasked with targeting mid-level crime such as Region Enforcement Squads and Domestic Violence High Risk Offender Teams have been established across NSW to better target and disrupt crime.”
Attorney General and Acting Police Minister Mark Speakman said community safety was the government’s top priority.
“We always give the police the right tools to do their job,” Mr Speakman said.
“On August 17, eight new Probationary Constables graduated from the Police Academy in Goulburn and were assigned to the Riverina Police District that includes Wagga Wagga.
“We have also established a Region Enforcement Squad at Wagga Wagga, which includes one Sergeant and five constables.”
Since 2011, the government has added more than 1000 additional officers to the police ranks, which totals 16,795 currently across the state.
“We delivered a record $3.9 billion budget for the police in 2018–19 and the deployment of an additional 100 officers,” Mr Speakman said.
The issue about extra policing resources in the Riverina was discussed at the Wagga TV byelection debate on September 4.
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