Police union representatives say the re-engineering of the state’s police force has “failed” the Cessnock and Kurri Kurri community.
The Police Association of NSW Cessnock branch has organised a public rally to be held on Thursday, May 10 as it ramps up its campaign for more officers and better resources for the Cessnock local government area.
Branch spokesperson Brian Neville said the re-engineering model – which came into effect on January 14 – showed promise when it was proposed, but isn’t delivering the numbers as hoped.
“We were promised a golden carriage, and we’ve been given a pumpkin,” Mr Neville said.
“The model itself seemed great, it gave us new hope, it seemed like a step in the right direction.
“But all we’ve seen is boundary changes and a rename.
“It doesn’t seem to be working the way it was sold.”
The former Central Hunter command – which comprised Cessnock and Maitland police – was split under the restructure.
Cessnock joined the Hunter Valley Police District (which also includes Singleton and Muswellbrook), while Maitland became part of the Port Stephens-Hunter district.
However, Cessnock’s detectives and crime management unit are still working out of Maitland Police Station – as the Cessnock station does not physically have the space, and officers are already working under cramped conditions, the union representatives say.
Meanwhile, Kurri Kurri Police Station (which is part of the Hunter Valley district) remains empty, having sat idle for two years.
While Maitland has been allocated 10 extra positions and Singleton eight, Cessnock has received no extra positions under the new structure.
Mr Neville said the branch is angry that Cessnock has missed out.
“We have a lot of fantastic, motivated police but they can only be stretched so far,” he said.
“Cessnock has gained absolutely zero out of this.”
As revealed in the latest Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research report, the Cessnock local government area had the second-highest rate of motor vehicle theft in NSW in 2017, and also ranked in the top 20 for domestic violence-related assault, break-and-enter dwelling and non-dwelling, steal from motor vehicle and steal from dwelling and steal from person incidents.
Police association branch member Paul Proctor said the high rates of crime only add to officers’ workloads.
“Police must have appropriate resources to do the job properly; housing police and the appropriate number of vehicles weren’t given due consideration during the re-engineering process,” Mr Proctor said.
“We’ve got a great community, and they’re the victims in this.
“The re-engineering process has failed regional communities like Cessnock, Kurri Kurri and Wollombi.”
Branch member Nicole Townsend said the community and local police deserves better.
“This is about police being able to do their jobs of protecting the community. Many local police call this area home and they know the community is losing out,” she said.
The union members say it's not just a matter of shifting police around from the Singleton and Muswellbrook stations – there has to be adequate police numbers.
The public rally will be held at East Cessnock Bowling Club on Thursday, May 10 at 4pm and all are welcome.
Mr Neville will address the meeting, along with Cessnock MP Clayton Barr and deputy mayor Anthony Burke.
Mr Barr said he “100 percent supports our local police on the stand that they are taking”.
“In Cessnock, we have a crime rate that is simply impossible for our local police to cover,” Mr Barr said.
“Our police are frustrated and our community are frustrated and the only winners are the criminal elements.
“Under the current police re-structuring we are due to have some police officers returned to our local area, but unfortunately the small local station can’t fit them in. This has to be addressed as a matter of urgency.
“As well, the actual number of frontline police needs to be increased to reflect the crime rate.”
Mr Barr encouraged people to attend the public meeting to support the police.
“It is incredibly courageous and extraordinary for local police to be speaking out publicly – so we need to get behind them,” he said.
“This public meeting is not an opportunity to come and air personal grievances, but it will be a wonderful opportunity to listen to the challenges our local police face due to lack of staff, and this will no doubt help people to understand why the police have trouble getting to each and every job that they are asked to attend.”