Police Minister Troy Grant has been challenged to “come clean” and let regional communities know about “forced police Local Area Command (LAC) amalgamations and staff cuts”.
Orange MP Phil Donato made the challenge in a letter to the media.
The NSW Police Force is planning a “re-engineering” of its regional operations.
The Orana and Mudgee LACs could be merged, with at least four LACs expected to be amalgamated.
Mr Donato’s letter came on the eve of an announcement in Wagga Wagga this week by Mr Grant of the first “Region Enforcement Squad” for country NSW.
Mr Grant said the new squad for the police Southern region would aim to decrease the workload for frontline police.
He said the squad “is just a start of what regional communities can expect to see as the re-engineering process continues”.
“By pooling resources in our regions with the capability to prevent and disrupt crime, our officers will be able to focus more on proactive policing rather than reactive policing.”
Mr Grant said the government “is absolutely committed to giving our regional officers all the support they need to stop crime in its tracks”.
Police Commissioner Michael Fuller said the squad model is about targeting criminals driving crime in regional areas – “It’s long overdue the country has the same resources as its city neighbours.”
Deputy Commissioner (Regional) Gary Worboys said the squad is another resource to tackle the scourge of illegal drugs and rural crime.
“Officers work diligently across the state to put the communities they serve first and this additional resource will help them prevent and disrupt those crimes that are having an impact on the everyday lives of residents and businesses.”
He said squads can be deployed to tackle crimes like mid-level drug supply “which will allow uniformed officers more time to focus on other crimes”.
Mr Donato, who had a 22-year police career, said he had “justifiable concerns”.
“This re-engineering involves the proposed amalgamation of 11 regional LACs into just seven. Any amalgamations will involve the reduction of pivotal senior positions, including Local Area Commanders, Crime Managers, Local Area Managers and other supportive administrative staff.
“Experienced leadership is vital in a day and age where the workload of police is ever increasing. Police rely on this experienced leadership when faced with an increased incidence of grave danger and during life and death situations. Removing these critical leadership positions will not reduce crime or improve service delivery to the community. Instead, what it will do is place unnecessary stress and workload on a narrowing, thin blue line.
“… ‘re-engineering’ will remain covert to the community until such time as the by-elections of Cootamundra and Murray have been decided. Those electorates are subject to forced LAC amalgamations, and the government is concerned that if voters there know the truth it will cost them an election. This information would prove beneficial for the voter to approve or disapprove of any re-engineering of police in their communities.”
He said police officers had told him they feared for their jobs. “Unfortunately, these amalgamations smack of cost saving measures, but at what cost? It is time for Troy Grant to come clean and let the communities in the electorates of Cootamundra, Murray, Orange, Dubbo and regional NSW know about these forced police LAC amalgamations and staff cuts,” he said.
Mr Grant said on Wednesday the review of police “is in no way about cutting officer numbers”.
Earlier he said “it is entirely false to suggest that police services will be diminished in any way as a result of the re-engineering. This process is in its infancy, and communities across the state, including in the Dubbo electorate, and local police, will be consulted on any potential changes.”
“Re-engineering” began with the May appointment of Mr Worboys.
Mr Fuller said then: “The real challenge in policing is about not continually putting police in the back end of responding to crime, but you've got to tackle prevention and disruption.”
... what it will do is place unnecessary stress and workload on a narrowing, thin blue line.Orange MP Phil Donato