This morning’s turning of the sod for the new $13 million Tweed-Byron police headquarters at Tweed Heads has been overshadowed by political row over crime rates and police numbers in the Tweed-Byron region.
Deputy NSW police commissioner Jeff Loy joined Tweed MP Geoff Provest at the site in Wharf Street at 10.30am for the sod turning, with representatives from builder Brookfields and contractors, Neighbourhood Watch, Tweed Shire Council, police officers and the general public watching on.
It was a celebratory mood for the milestone, given it’s taken years to find a suitable site for the HQ.
But just half an hour earlier, NSW opposition leader Luke Foley, Richmond MP Justine Elliot and Labor’s state shadow police minister Walt Secord went to the police station site in a bid to steal their thunder by highlighting what they say is a ‘policing failure’.
It followed Mr Provest’s recent media statement welcoming ‘stable and falling crime statistics’ across the state.
However, Labor says police numbers in the Tweed-Byron Local Area Command (LAC) have slipped below 2009 levels.
The Labor MPs also say it’s disappointing that the Tweed-Byron command has not received a single constable from the last two graduations of the 236 new probationary constables at the NSW Police Force Academy in Goulburn in August or December graduations.
Mr Foley said the failure ‘lay squarely with the NSW National Party and Tweed MP Geoff Provest’.
The results, he said, were based on official data published recently on the NSW Police website.
‘In 2009, Tweed MP Geoff Provest – while in opposition – declared the Tweed-Byron police region were 59 police officers short of their fair share – and pledged to significantly boost police numbers when he formed government,’ Mr Foley said.
‘Under Mr Provest’s own formula the Tweed police area should have more than 240 police officers, but in fact police numbers were lower now than when Mr Provest made his 2009 police pledge.
‘Mr Provest must come clean and admit that he has failed the residents of Tweed because he has not increased the number of police officers in the Tweed Byron Local Area Command.
‘The data shows that in September 2015, the actual strength in Tweed Byron is 164 officers and 17 Tweed-based Highway Patrol officers – giving a total of 181 officers for the local area command; and in May 2009, the actual strength for Tweed Byron was 185 officers.’
‘The drop in police numbers are at a time when rural and regional communities are being impacted with the challenges of motorcycle gangs and the scourge of the drug – ice.
‘It is disappointing and it simply does not make sense: the north coast is one of the state’s fastest growing regions and the number of police officers is not keeping pace. In fact, the number has slipped and the new ones are going to Sydney, western NSW and the southern region, but none for the north coast,’ Mr Foley said.
Mrs Elliot said ‘it was ’a clear broken election promise’ as Mr Provest was ‘elected on a clear platform to increase police numbers; they have only gone down under his watch’.
‘As a former police officer I understand the importance of having appropriate numbers of police on the beat in our communities to ensure locals remain safe,’ she said.
Mr Provest last week said the latest NSW quarterly crime data showed ’16 of the 17 major crime categories have trended down or remained stable across the state in the two years to September 2015 while one category has risen’.
He then listed the offences that were trending down across the state, saying ‘the results are testament to the hard work of the NSW Police Force.
‘The NSW government will continue to ensure the NSW Police Force has the tools needed to crack down on crime and keep the people of NSW safe,’ Mr Provest said.
‘In the Tweed electorate there are some positive downward trends in crime including domestic-violence related assault down 12.5 per cent.
Mr Provest pointed out that stealing from retail stores had risen by 5.3 per cent statewide in the two years to September this year.
‘This is concerning for local retailers leading into the Christmas period and I’d encourage shop owners and managers to review their security measures,’ he said.
In October last year, the Joint Regional Planning Panel (JRPP) approved the new HQ, a three-storey building at 83 Wharf Street.
The approval ended a five-year quest to find a site, with two other controversial sites previously rejected as inappropriate. One was the Kingscliff police station site and another on prime agricultural land at Cudgen.
Mr Provest said the project had seen ‘its share of setbacks and delays, with changes to both location and design, but now it’s time to get the work started’.
Then police minister Stuart Ayres said the new station ‘furthers our commitment to the northern region by providing an extra 60 police officers by May 2015’, which has not been realised.
The new building will include 66 on-site car parking spaces.