A thinner blue line

STRETCHED THIN: Police union figures show local police are down about 35 officers a day because of sickness.
STRETCHED THIN: Police union figures show local police are down about 35 officers a day because of sickness. Jacklyn Wagner

MORE than 16 per cent of our local police force is on sick leave on any given day, stretching crime-fighting and crime prevention resources to the limit.

Richmond Local Area Command officers are routinely called in to cover additional shifts because roughly 30 officers are on long-term sick and stress leave and have not been replaced, according to the Police Association of NSW.

Each day, on average, up to four police that are rostered on call in sick because of short-term ailments.

The new figures follow claims last year that the region was short about 200 police, compared to other parts of NSW.

Ballina MP Don Page last year said the Northern Rivers NSW averaged one officer for every 500 residents, but in this area it was one for every 700.

The result is that, although the local area command has 211 officers on its books, it is operating on a daily basis with 176 people.

“Across the board we're bleeding people at the moment,” Lismore Police Association branch secretary Matt Kehoe said.

“It places pressure across the command,” he said. “You're ringing people at all hours of the night; calling people in, in the middle of the night, to see if they can fill in for someone.”

The lack of police on duty is particularly difficult in an area where demands on police are high, Mr Kehoe said.

“It's one of the busiest commands I've worked in and I've worked at a lot.”

According to the NSW Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing, the rate of alcohol-related crime in Lismore is almost double that of the state average.

Domestic violence rates are much higher, and drink driving is more common - all placing pressure on police resources.

Richmond Commander Superintendent Bruce Lyons acknowledged there was a high number of people on long-term sick leave and congratulated his officers on coping well with increased demands on their time.

“Due to a number of factors of policing in a busy command we have experienced high long-term sick rates at Richmond for some time,” Supt Lyons said.

“We are doing our best to get those officers who are not able to come back to work replaced.”

He admitted it had an impact on police morale in the region, but said the police executive was working to address the problem.

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