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Byron Shire
January 25, 2021

Are more police the answer – if so, what is the question?

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MLC Cate Faehrmann, in Mullumbimby on Friday for the ‘Rethink Reform Our Drug Laws’ event. ‘It was a great evening with about 55 in attendance,’ said Ms Faehrmann. ‘There were 45 in Lismore the previous evening. So 100 all up. The response to the Greens reform agenda was overwhelmingly positive. What was clear from the evening was just how fed up the community is with the government’s failed zero-tolerance approach to illegal drugs. Some people shared their stories of the devastating impacts our punitive drug laws have had on them and their families. Stories such as one woman being taken off a dance floor by three police officers and found with a minuscule quantity of magic mushrooms resulting in a court ordeal dragging on for months shows just how ridiculous our drug laws are. Photo Tree Faerie.

David Lowe

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.

Safe communities

‘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.

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  1. If we got more police, more kids would be sent to court for riding skate baords on the road. Also more cyclists would be apprehended for not wearing helmets. And also more kids on the streets would be told to “move on” when they created a crowd of more than 10 kids playing loud music in a public place.
    Yes, we need more police. These kids are causing mayhem in society

  2. The Northern Rivers certainly looks & sounds like
    ‘a police state’. I’m agreeing that the excessive
    drug tests is a waste of time & money considering
    that the least harmful ‘weed’ in available in most
    parts of the globe & M.D.s along with Specialists
    sing its praise in treatment for so many illnesses.
    Going back into the Dark ages is simply a power
    game. The ALP’s got to be seen as if it has a
    platform since it’s become the ‘do nothing’

  3. MORE POLICE !!! Seems the answer to all politicians for all problems.

    Such a sad indictment of what has happened to this once quiet, rural area with the influx of more and more humans.

    In less than 50 years … its all over here !!!

    Koalas dying as humans invade.

    We now live in ru-burbs. Crime and all !

    Wow … another beautiful place bights the dust !

    Don’t know how much longer I can stay…

  4. Oh Come on !
    How much longer are we going to tolerate this lazy, simplistic and demonstrably usless, but politically easy ‘motherhood’ mindset ,which sets up a manufactured problem and commits to ever increasing funding in order to satisfy a gullible and intentionally misinformed public that something positive is being achieved.
    Meanwhile, all that is happening is that more police are given cushy, entirely irrelevent positions that precludes them from dealing with the meaningful aspects of community pressures, largely due to overpopulation, incompetence and total lack of forward planning by our laughingly so called ‘Government’.
    Drug use is nothing new or particularly concerning and if Cannabis was legalised today, as it will be in our capital, it would merely lead to less criminal conviction,less stress and paranoia and SAFER medication for a huge range conditions and would save the tax-payers billions.
    You Know I’m Right ! G”)

  5. A cynic would say the calls for more police are to fill up all the privatised prisons, meet police work KPI’s or a simple power grab and empire building by NSW Police. I’m not at all surprised to hear that one MP is a former cop, like so many politicians in this State, and Nationally.


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