Short-staffed Tweed police 'at breaking point'
POLICE in the Tweed Byron Local Area Command have voted to begin industrial action amid claims they are severely understaffed and "beyond breaking point”.
A senior police officer, who asked not to be named, said more than 50 officers had fronted a hastily convened union meeting recently where they agreed to the industrial action - a decision rarely taken by police.
The members are refusing to allow first response officers to be used for prison transfers.
A petition will also be placed at the front counter of each of the command's seven stations, calling on the community to support them in their push for more staff.
The Tweed Byron command stretches from Tweed Heads to Byron Bay and Bangalow and west to the Tweed- Kyogle boundary.
Officially, the command has about 163 full-time equivalent staff, but about 30 of those are on long-term sick or injury leave, leaving fewer than 130 staff available to be rostered on.
"We have been trying to remedy the problem of a lack of police numbers using internal avenues a number of times in recent years to no avail,” the police officer said.
"The situation is what some local police believe is beyond breaking point.
"We are committed to working on long-term solutions for local problems, are are willing to escalate matters on behalf of members should appropriate solutions, due to workload and staffing levels, be unable to be negotiated.”
The officer said he thought at least 20 additional staff were needed on top of the 160 staff to relieve the workload pressure.
The industrial action comes just days before the official opening of the command's new headquarters in Wharf St, Tweed Heads, on Friday, due to be attended by top brass including the NSW Police Minister Troy Grant, Police Commissioner Mick Fuller and Deputy Commissioner Gary Worboys.
Police Association of NSW executive member for the North Coast Brett Henderson-Smith said the workload was impacting on the health of officers.
"Because of the high workload there are a lot of police who are burning out,” Mr Henderson-Smith said.
"It's great having a new police station, but you need the police officers there to be able to go out and keep the community safe.
"This government is very good at building new infrastructure, they are just not as good at putting police officers in those stations.”
Tweed MP Geoff Provest, who has lobbied for more officers since taking office 11 years ago, said the high level of sick leave had an enormous impact.
"There is something fundamentally wrong in this command that we are experiencing probably leading the state in terms of the number of officers off on long-term sick,” Mr Provest said.
"Other LACs experience a quarter of what we experience in long-term sick,” he said.
"This has been an issue in this command for many, many years.
"The police minister and the new commissioner have reassured me that under the new re-engineering they will take some urgent steps in regards to it.
"But deep down, there is a cultural problem within our LAC that we experience at any one stage upwards of 10 or 20% of our workforce unavailable to put guns and handcuffs on.
"I would also ask the police association to come up with suggestions - you can't replace officers that are off on long-term sick because they are still on the books.”
Tweed Byron LAC Superintendent Wayne Starling said he had "complete confidence” in the NSW Police Commissioner and whatever decision he made for the LAC.
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