Shadow NSW police minister Lynda Voltz said a recent “spike” of workers compensation claims is partly due to stress as police deal with COVID-19 and continue to be assaulted by some members of the public.
Each year for the past five years, NSW police report about 2500 assaults on officers, with almost half of them alcohol-related and on weekends.
There are “pockets” of NSW that are complex to police and need more experienced officers but younger police are being stationed in these areas, which may affect retention rates, Ms Voltz said.
“Granville PAC, for example, has a large number of younger, less experienced officers but is a complex place to police,” she said.
There were 17,366 NSW police officers in June, 624 more than in November 2018 when the NSW Government announced it would add 1500 new officers.
Police officers on sick leave or workers compensation hit 881 in February 2020. Average hours per officer lost annually due to sickness and injury rose from 101 in 2015 to 137 in 2019, NSW police annual reports show.
Lawyers, politicians, the media and academics inflame an “anti-police culture” via issues such as incarceration rates that pile blame onto police who don’t decide sentences, make laws or decide policies that drive who gets jailed, Western Sydney University criminologist Dr Michael Kennedy said.
“Who shapes society and its values?” said Dr Kennedy, who was a police officer for 20 years. “It’s not the police. They’re just cleaners — they clean up the mess that’s created by society, no more or less — and somehow they’re (seen as) the causal factor behind a range of issues.”
NSW Police Minister David Elliott said 700 of the extra positions have been filled in the “biggest boost to officer numbers in more than three decades”.
“Further allocation of positions will be determined based on resource requirements and how best to prevent, disrupt and respond to emerging crime issues,” Mr Elliott said.
Greens MP David Shoebridge said high turnover is seen by some politicians as “a cost-saving, with more experienced and expensive police replaced with lower-paid graduates”.
“No organisation should be seeing these high attrition rates, it’s yet more proof that there is a deep cultural problem in the NSW Police,” Mr Shoebridge said.
“I’ve spoken to many former police officers who came into the organisation hoping to work with the community but found an organisation increasingly in conflict with the community, with aggressive proactive policing the main culprit.”
NSW Police has engagement and retention strategies plus “extensive programs” to help officers transition to other jobs, a police spokeswoman said.
“Injury management procedures are in place to support injured workers, with redeployment options explored where viable,” she said.
A 2016 audit found NSW Police expected within 10 years to have an older workforce with 12 per cent of officers aged 55-64. Workers compensation leave tends to increase with age and was highest for officers aged between 50 and 60.
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Nigel Gladstone is an investigative journalist at The Sydney Morning Herald.