Northern Star

Police on leave highest in NSW

ALMOST one in five local police officers is on sick or stress leave, or restricted duties.

That was the bombshell dropped by the state's auditor-general, Peter Achterstraat, when he released his latest report to the NSW Parliament on Tuesday.

The report, which looked at the increasing cost of the Police Partial and Permanent Disability Scheme, found the North Coast had the highest number of police on restricted duties or long-term sick leave in the state.

Mr Achterstraat said the NSW Police Force needed to do more to prevent officers from leaving due to career ending injuries and ensure it had sufficient money to meet the increasing costs of its Partial and Permanent Disability Scheme.

“The scheme's liability has more than doubled from $87 million in 2007 to $190 million in 2010,” Mr Achterstraat said.

“The annual number of claims paid has increased more than four times from 68 to 282, and the average claim size has increased from $373,307 to $421,958,” he added.

The revelation the North Coast had 20 per cent of its police officers off work or on restricted duties did not surprise Tony King, the Police Association's northern region executive member.

“For too long, local police on the Northern Rivers and Northern Region have been saying that we are understaffed and over worked and I think the figures supplied in the audit back up what the police have been saying,” he said.

“The government has for too long been counting the sick and injured as frontline staff and fooling the local communities.

“To have this many sick and injured really does highlight the problem of police being overworked.”

Mr King said policing was a stressful and dangerous occupation, and being understaffed compounded the problem because more police were getting sick and injured as a result of the pressure.

“Having this many police on sick or restricted duties places further pressures on those that are remaining,” he said.

“How much better could these communities be policed if we had an extra 401 police?

“This has been a long-term problem and until recently very little was done to address the problem.

“However, in the last few months the Police Association and Northern Region Management have started to work on the cause of this problem.”

In a twist to the story, a police officer from the Coffs-Clarence local area command told The Daily Examiner the problem of police going off on sick leave was exacerbated by a lack of work ethic in younger police.

Speaking under the guarantee of anonymity, the officer said the current death and disability scheme was vital for hard working, honest police, but enabled lazy or disinterested police to get big pay-outs.

“What I believe is happening is that some of the younger ones who don't have the same work ethic as some of the older ones see a bit of death and so on, then decide they've had enough and go off on sick leave,” the officer said.

“I think we've got to stop employing the wrong type of people.

“We need more police, but we need good ones.”

Clarence MP Steve Cansdell is backing the call for more police.

He said he was extremely concerned the Northern Region had the worst figures in the state.

“Members of the community often tell me they are concerned that although local stations may have a certain authorised strength, the actual number of police is much less,” he said.

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