Armidale-based Senior Constable Chris Jordan has won the support of Tenterfield Shire councillors in the NSW Police Association’s bid to divest officers of prisoner transport duties which pull the officers away from their stations.
Snr Cst Jordan said the issue was one of upmost importance in smaller centres like Tenterfield where the ‘thin blue line’ becomes the ultra-thin line when officers are out-of-town delivering prisoners. He said this happened recently in Tenterfield when the sole on-duty officer had to deliver four prisoners to Lismore, only to have Correction Services refuse to accept one on medical grounds (he was a diabetic).
It was only thanks to cooperation from Lismore Police that the Tenterfield officer didn’t have to wait with the prisoner at Lismore Base Hospital for medical clearance, which would have extended his six-hour absence even further.
He said officers on their day off can be called in for emergencies, but that they need their break from what can be a stressful job. The other alternative is backup from Glen Innes, 92 kilometres away.
In other scenarios prisoners can’t be handed over to other authorities in a timely manner because they are female or juvenile or both. As it is, prisoners often have to travel in a station’s unsuited first-response vehicle – possibly its only vehicle – for many hours.
“These vehicles are designed and are useful for short distance transportation of prisoners all within a city or town boundary, and under 80 kmph,” Snr Cst Jordan said.
“It is simply a ute with a plastic box on the back.
“In winter, particularly here in the New England, we are expected to transport prisoners in below-zero conditions. Ask anyone that has had to experience a trip in the back of our caged vehicles in winter. It’s freezing.
“We’re talking about real human beings, not animals.”
The Police Association represents 16,000 members and just over 98 per cent of active police officers, with Snr Cst Jordan as its Western Region delegate. The association is lobbying police minister Troy Grant and other state politicisation to instead resource Corrective Services, Juvenile Justice and mental health services to take over the prisoner transport role as appropriate.
Snr Cst Jordan welcomes a directive from the Industrial Relations Commission for the association to sit down with NSW Police for compulsory conciliation on June 15, after many fruitless years of lobbying on the matter.
“This is a step in the right direction,” he said.
He is on a mission to garner political and community support for the association’s position, and praised Tenterfield mayor Peter Petty on his quick response to a message sent to all mayors in the area seeking their support.
Snr Cst Jordan spoke to council ahead of its May council meeting, commending the support already shown to police by councillors and the community at the recent Coffee with a Cop gathering.
“We’re not here to be Uber or taxi drivers,” he told councillors.
He said if the community knew of the extent of the absences caused by prisoner transport commitments, “they’d be pretty cranky.”
“Troy Grant is a good bloke, but he’s letting us down.”
Snr Cst Jordan said Mr Grant will be more-than-familiar with the problem from his past stint as officer-in-charge at Tenterfield Police.