Hans Lovejoy & Chris Dobney
Tweed MP Geoff Provest is claiming police in the region are operating at 90 per cent capacity despite claims by the ALP and the police union that he has failed to deliver on his election campaign to increase police numbers.
Last week state Labor MP Walt Secord said police numbers are the same as they were in 2009 and Mr Provest has yet to fulfil his promise to assign 59 extra police for Tweed, which also covers Byron Shire. ‘Geoff Provest is unwilling or unable to respond to Tweed crime issues,’ he told media.
In response, Mr Provest told Echonetdaily that ‘Part of a local MP’s role is to work with the local police to ensure they have the resources they require, not what the media or others who are not professional officers think they should have’.
But his comments fly in the face of claims by Troy Hamilton, the Byron Bay branch administrator of the NSW Police Association, who told media yesterday that there had been a 56 per cent increase in police assaults and resisting arrest charges in the town since 2010. He added there had been a 90 per cent increase in drug detections in the last 12 months.
Mr Provest claims that when the coalition came into office, around 34 of the 189 officers in the Tweed Byron LAC were on long-term sick leave, and, ‘at most times we had only 70 per cent of operational strength available.’
He says he actively encouraged them to return to work, ‘through a revamp of the death and disability program’.
‘Currently we are operating at 90 per cent or more operational strength, which means we have 20 per cent more police on the street than we had two years ago.’ He added that crime rates are currently 50 per cent less than they were two years ago.
Mr Hamilton said state government still needed to deliver on its election promise of 24 additional police for the Tweed-Byron Local Area Command, ‘due to the increase in alcohol-related and drug-related crime in Byron Bay and the fact that police are being used as punching bags every weekend’.
But Mr Provest said, ‘I want to say that alcohol-fuelled violence is on the rise not only in the Tweed Byron LAC but across the state, if not across the country. It is not unique to Byron Bay.
‘Police powers and fines have been increased and courts have been given greater powers to deal with this.’
As for actual police numbers, both state Nationals MPs Provest (Tweed) and Page (Ballina) appear to be at odds over how many have been assigned to the area in recent times.
Mr Provest told Echonetdaily that 27 probationary officers were allocated to the Tweed Byron LAC over the last 18 months, while Mr Page said, ‘I am advised that the Tweed/Byron Local Area Command has had 23 new officers allocated since the last state election, which is a significant increase’.