Covering the Goulburn and Murray valleys

Cops beat it after dark

Secret trial slashes police numbers and risks tragedy.

IVY WISE August 28, 2014 8:51am

A trial roster means only four police are available to cover the Campaspe region for up to eight hours a day.

That means emergency calls in outlying towns will be forced to wait 30 minutes — or longer — depending on where operational units are.

One frustrated officer has spoken out, telling the Riv the increasing demands and strain on understaffed shifts have set the scene for a tragedy.

The officer, who asked to be unnamed, says the roster, which has been quietly introduced without any public consultation or awareness, sees Echuca police station covering the Campaspe police service area when Kyabram, Rochester and Rushworth officers are not on duty, usually between 11pm and 7am.

‘‘Residents who live in those areas should be very concerned about the time it’ll take for officers from Echuca to respond to jobs,’’ the officer said.

‘‘These are also the times the highway patrol officers don’t work.

‘‘This will leave just four officers to look after the whole of Campaspe.’’

He said getting rid of on-call staff in these areas put extra strain on the already under-resourced Echuca station.

And the lack of on-call officers in the region will put extra strain on Echuca staff and further risk public safety.

The police strategy is being based on data analysis of historical demand for after-hours police in small towns surrounding Echuca.

Campaspe acting Inspector Tim Edgeworth said the new roster, which comes into effect after 2pm on Fridays and Saturdays, was being trialled after data revealed on-call officers in the small towns were not needed.

‘‘The call-outs for jobs in places like Kyabram did not justify having someone permanently available,’’ he said.

‘‘If there are jobs during that time, those jobs would be triaged by the Sergeant at Echuca who, depending on priority, will send an Echuca unit.’’

Insp. Edgeworth said with no way of predicting when police would be needed, staff had to be rostered and tasked accordingly.

‘‘We can also draw on resources from other areas, such as Bendigo, which is an hour away,’’ he said.

However, the police officer said this was not good enough.

He told the Riv Campaspe needed at least 10 more police, particularly with the district population increasing and the peak tourist season approaching.

‘‘The Echuca area has one patrol unit for a local population of about 12,000-plus — when it’s not already tied-up,’’ he said.

‘‘It’s very common to only have one patrol unit, except for Friday and Saturday nights when there’s two, which is not acceptable.’’

The officer said at Echuca police station alone, which has about 48 officers, about 20 per cent of those were currently off sick or on restricted duties.

‘‘Combine this with about 20 per cent more on leave at any given time and it equals 40 per cent of the frontline uniform officers,’’ he said.

But Insp. Edgeworth was confident the station was adequately staffed.

‘‘In the past 12 months we’ve gained an extra sergeant, an extra senior constable and an extra constable at Echuca and Kyabram,’’ he said.

‘‘The data, and the number of jobs we attend, would not support 10 extra members.’’

However he did say police management would listen to concerns from members about the new roster, which would be reviewed in the next couple of months.

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