Last week a group of NSW ALP figures including the Labor leader Jodi McKay and Federal MP for Richmond, Justine Elliot, launched a petition calling for more police on the Far North Coast, citing rapid population growth and a ‘policing and crime crisis’ along with drugs issues.
The online petition reads: ‘The police numbers in our region have been slashed so severely that staffing levels are now in crisis…
‘Our petition calls for increased police numbers for the North Coast and demands that the NSW Liberal National Government stop ignoring the safety concerns of local residents.’
So is crime actually ‘out of control’ in our region, as the ALP are suggesting?
As a former police officer, Justine Elliot claims some expertise in this area, but the official statistics from the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research tell a different story.
Their figures, which are drawn from police records, show a clear and steady decline in both violent and property offences across the state since 2002, and the Far North Coast is no exception. BOCSAR figures for Richmond-Tweed for the last 24 months show the crime rate in relation to the rest of the state as being ‘stable’.
While the ALP claim police numbers across the region have dropped under the Nationals, Ballina Greens MP Tamara Smith says numbers have increased again since the last budget, and the emphasis of the ALP’s petition is misplaced.
‘The Northern Rivers and the Tweed coast are safe communities with very low crime rates,’ she said. ‘Our police men and women on the North Coast do outstanding work. However, front line officers have been telling me for the last four years that it is changes to the police service as a whole that need to be refined.’
According to Tamara Smith, women officers on maternity leave are not replaced and the rest of their squad is expected to pick up their shifts – for several years in some cases.
In addition, ‘under the current system, officers on sick leave are also not replaced and the rest of their team is expected to pick up their shifts.’
The Ballina member argues that increased police numbers ‘do not address this fundamental injustice.’
According to Justine Elliot, ‘locals constantly tell me their neighbourhood and streets are being targeted by criminals who see NSW as a soft touch. Unlike the Nationals, I support the calls for more police because I’ve seen first-hand the pressure our police are under.’
Tamara Smith responds: ‘I disagree with Labor scare-mongering on matters of public safety. I want our police to have work conditions that support the incredible work they do and for each command to have relieving officers, above establishment, so that we always have the numbers we require to serve our community.
‘Better work conditions for our police [means] they can thrive in their roles and do more of the community based, preventative policing that makes the biggest difference to interrupting crime.’
Drug reform needed
While politicians continue to argue about these issues, one thing that is very obvious to Northern Rivers residents is the disproportionate number of police who always seem to be available for random drug testing in the region, especially around festival time.
According to local RDT activist Ron Priestley, ‘Law and order is a lazy politicians’ platform. While the rest of the world is giving up the “war on drugs” these tossers are heading back to the dark ages. Drugs are a medical and social problem… we already have more highway police than anywhere in the western world.’
At least one NSW politician is on side. NSW Greens MLC Cate Faehrmann, in Mullumbimby recently for the ‘Rethink Reform Our Drug Laws’ event, said ‘we need to recognise that treating drug use by putting more police in place is in fact counter-productive.’
She continued: ‘Drug-related crime will always be a factor while drugs are illegal. We know that in countries like Portugal – which has decriminalised drugs, and police have stopped targeting drugs users – their crime rates have dropped substantially.
‘So putting in place more police is just making the problem worse. It’s stigmatising people. It’s treating drug users as the problem, rather than our drug laws.’
While police claim there are a higher proportion of positive tests returned here, compared to other areas, there is a local perception that there is significantly more testing in the northern rivers. However, there is no public data, so the jury is out on whether the taxpayer is getting anything of value.
In the meantime here’s the link to the ALP police petition: www.justineelliot.com.au/petition-for-more-police.
Nationals Tweed MP Geoff Provest did not respond by deadline.